Actor Edward Burns made his initial splash as an indie director with the overrated The Brother’s McMullen in 1995. Since that fame-inducing moment, the impact of his directorial projects has dwindled with mediocrities such as She’s the One and No Looking Back, and he’s experienced only limited success as an actor. While he delivered a promising performance as a sarcastic soldier in Saving Private Ryan, he’s participated in turkeys like 15 Minutes and Life or Something Like It.
With Confidence, it appears Burns is finally ready to deliver on some of his acting promise. Director James Foley coaxes some great work out of Burns in this snappy, often-funny con man movie that manages to be clever in a genre that has felt played-out in recent efforts. Burns’ almost casual, just-a-little-smarmy delivery slips effectively into the character of Jake Vig, a grifter with a penchant for elaborately-staged cons involving actors and plenty of fake blood.
The film starts with its apparent end, followed by a flashback to three weeks previous, with Jake acting as narrator for the events leading up to his current dilemma. We see Jake and his cohorts (including the great Paul Giamatti) hustle a wormy guy out of $150,000, apparently not knowing the money actually belongs to an influential crime lord (Dustin Hoffman, in full-blown, wonderfully disgusting mode).
Hoffman is great fun as The King, a shady businessman who decides to use Jake for a big score, rather than kill him for thievery. Hoffman, who actually gets away nicely with the tough-guy cliché of vigorously chewing gum, hasn’t been this sleazy since Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy. It’s apparent the man is having a blast with the chance to cut up, and his fun is infectious. While he suffered a lull in the ‘90s, his recent triumph in Moonlight Mile and his fantastic work here show us the master is back on his game.
An example of the film’s sense of humor comes when Hoffman’s King chastises two new erotic dancers at his club for not sexually teasing each other with more class. Because the dancers pass themselves off as sisters, he’s disgusted by their lack of decency in front of people with families and children. He wants them to perform immoral acts on stage, but with a certain level of decency. In a strange way, Hoffman manages to make the criticism make some kind of sick sense.
As for the film’s big con, it’s obvious that what seems to be going down will not in fact be the case. Filmgoers have become too savvy at figuring out mysteries and secrets before they’ve been revealed, so Confidence has quite the task at hand. That said, the film doesn’t cheat upon reaching its conclusions and provides enough legitimate twists to keep even the best guessers on their toes.
Burns should parlay his work in this film into further acting success; he proves here that he has the ability to carry a movie (Hoffman’s role, although fantastic, is minor compared to his). Giamatti shows he’s one of the greater supporting actors in the business, after being wasted in Duets and Big Momma’s House. His role here will act as a nice prelude to his first lead role in this year’s American Splendor.
A bland performance by Rachel Weisz as a wannabe grifter slows things down a bit, but not enough to make Confidence anything less than a decent, enjoyable film. Perhaps this movie will mark an upturn in Burns’ topsy-turvy career.