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The Grifters Movie Review

huston film anjelica actress

Jim Thompson's tightly written novels grab you by the throat and never let go until you finish reading them. The Grifters supplies movie audiences with an equivalent cinematic wallop. Ironically, it took a British director, Stephen Frears, to do full justice to Thompson, and The Grifters is arguably the finest film noir to emerge in recent years. The Grifters examines con artists in extreme close-up. For most of the narrative, Frears uses a straightforward matter-of-fact approach to tell a fairly bizarre, always chilling tale. In The Grifters, Anjelica Huston plays the sort of mother seldom seen on screen. As Lilly, her life has been one con after another, with no respite in sight. She is not devoid of feelings, she has simply learned that feelings are easily expendable in her line of work. Throughout the film, we see how other con artists retire after brutal experiences, which merely sideline Lilly for a moment or two. In contrast, her son Roy (John Cusack) doesn't have the stomach to be a con artist. His timing is off. His recovery time is slow. Worst of all, Roy lacks Lilly's sharp knack for reading people, especially a fellow grifter named Myra (Annette Bening). Cusack does his best job to date here and the usually elegant Bening is so grimy as Myra that she is able to achieve the effects of aromarama without the help of scratch-and-sniff cards. Veteran character actors Pat Hingle and Henry Jones also contribute to the film's pungent atmosphere. But it is Anjelica Huston's film all the way. Remember the final sequence in Double Indemnity when Barbara Stanwyck lies to Fred MacMurray for the umpteenth time and nearly gets away with it? Screen moments like this defy dissection and analysis, and Anjelica Huston has so many of them in The Grifters: the way she can take in stride a cigarette being ground onto her palm; the way she can work scams on everyone, even her own kid, without batting an eye. There was one point in the film when I thought she was going to bite the dust for sure and all I could think was, “I don't care what sort of a monster she is. If she dies, this movie is over!” And then there is the film's startling conclusion, which will knock you for a loop even if you've read the book. In 1969 at age 17, Anjelica was regarded as one of the world's worst actresses when she made her movie debut in A Walk with Love and Death, directed by father John. Over the years, she has emerged as a wise and charismatic presence onscreen, and her delicious portrayal in Prizzi's Honor was clearly just a warm-up for the work we will hopefully see her do in the future. In the meanwhile, Anjelica Huston's work in The Grifters simply has to rank among the all-time great noir performances ever.

1990 (R) 114m/C Anjelica Huston, John Cusack, Annette Bening, Pat Hingle, J.T. Walsh, Charles Napier, Henry Jones, Gailard Sartain; D: Stephen Frears; W: Donald E. Westlake; C: Oliver Stapleton; M: Elmer Bernstein. Independent Spirit Awards ‘91: Best Actress (Huston), Best Film; Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards ‘90: Best Actress (Huston); National Society of Film Critics Awards ‘90: Best Actress (Huston), Best Supporting Actress (Bening); Nominations: Academy Awards ‘90: Best Actress (Huston), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director (Frears), Best Supporting Actress (Bening). VHS, LV, Closed Caption, DVD

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