In other hands, Confidence might have been a routine caper movie about grifters pulling off a big con. If you look at the plot, it owes a great deal to The Sting, The Firm and Ocean's Eleven amongst others. What redeems it and makes it one of the year's more entertaining thrillers is its director, James Foley. Though his career has been hit (Glengarry Glen Ross) and miss (The Chamber), Foley is the right man for Confidence. He brings to the picture considerable visual style and energy and he makes excellent use of his actors, particularly two inspired casting choices.
Inspired casting choice number one is Edward Burns, who's an actor rather than a star and isn't afraid to make conman Jake Vig a bit of a prick. Which he is - the man lies, cheats and steals for a living. We first meet Jake and his crew as they're ripping off a small-time gangster in an elaborate sting involving a faked killing and a couple of corrupt cops. They make off with a briefcase full of the crook's money, only to discover, too late, that it didn't belong to him. The cash was borrowed from big-time gangster Winston King, who calls himself The King, holds grudges and is played by Dustin Hoffman, inspired casting choice number two.
Though he appears in only three scenes, Hoffman pulls off one of the achievements of his career - creating a villain we haven't seen before. The King is like a child with power, an angry, hyperactive, sexually ambiguous child with a chip on his shoulder. Strutting around the nightclub that's his base of operations, he goes from charming host to aggressive flirt to frighteningly violent thug without pause or warning. He summons Jake and tells him he's going to make amends by pulling off a new scam and cutting him in for half. The target will be Morgan Price (Robert Forster), a corrupt banker who grew up in the King's neighbourhood and annoys him by being more successful. It's a big job - the score will be five million dollars - and Jake's plan will require a female crewmember so he recruits sexy pickpocket Lily (Rachel Weiss) after she steals his wallet twice. There's also a complication in the shape of FBI agent Gunther Butan (Andy Garcia), who's obsessed with busting Jake and shows up at the worst possible time.
It's a shame Robert Forster and Andy Garcia weren't given meatier parts. Garcia deserves special sympathy for growing such alarming facial hair for a role that gives him little to do. More serious negative points are that the scam is nothing we haven't seen before and neither are the obligatory plot twists. Experienced moviegoers will be able to predict how it all turns out long before the end. It's to the credit of the film-makers that Confidence is fast-moving and involving enough that you can overlook drawbacks that would have damaged a lesser film. Dustin Hoffman's performance alone is worth the price of admission if you enjoy great acting and the gorgeous cinematography by Juan Ruiz Anchía is another big plus. Confidence gets 10 out of 10 for style and 5 or 6 for content but sometimes style by itself is enough. After all, you can't complain that a movie about conmen has pulled the wool over your eyes.