There really is no secret as to why we love the appeal of a con artist. We, as a people, want to indulge in our dark sides. We want to know what it feels like to rob a bank, or to take someone’s life; however, we don’t want to deal with the consequences that would follow. So, we don’t do it. We identify with con men, because most people want to prove how smart or how important they are. Quintessentially, that’s exactly what a con man is doing: attempting to establish his/her superior intelligence over their victims. In order for a film like The Grifters to work, it has to accomplish many things, but I think the most important thing it has to do is challenge your moral spectrum. The Grifters does a wonderful job of this and accomplishes so many other amazing things once the 110 minute runtime has expired. Although there are some elements that don't work to their potential, I truly believe that this film is masterfully done and is something that scholars should study over the course of time. From the stellar performance by Anjelica Huston, to the wonderfully executed direction, The Grifters is a triumph by English filmmaker Stephen Frears.
Just like it’s source material, The Grifters is incredibly provocative. With a few slight differences, it stands on its own. Set in what I believe to be the early nineties, the film starts out by introducing you to its wonderful lead characters: Roy Dillon, played by John Cusack (Say Anything, Con Air) Lilly Dillon, played by the incomparable Anjelica Huston (The Addams Family, Buffalo ‘66) and Myra Langtry played by Annete Benning (American Beauty, Bugsy). We are immediately drawn into the characters, I think mostly due to the fact that they behave so seductively and the way that the director chose to portray all of the characters: desirable. All of these characters, are coming to the end of their cons and are looking either for a way out or a bigger con to dive into. However, the greatest part of the film is how Anjelica Huston sets the character of Lily apart from the supporting characters.
Lily sees every single person on the street as a square, just waiting for their money to be taken. She has such a devilish delicacy to her which makes you shiver once you realize that every decision she makes is more wicked and villainous than the last one. Once you see the decisions that she is willing to make, you can’t help but wonder what she will do next. She draws you and keeps on reeling until you’ve yearned for her next move. The woman is a natural born predator. What is something that is universal with predators? They identify weaknesses in their prey and exploit them. This becomes very clear as the film progresses, but most certainly in the final scene. Lily is very aware that Roy’s main weakness is his emotional state. Over the course of the film, she appeals to his emotions and makes him believe there is love between the two of them without ever fully committing to the idea herself. In the penultimate scene, she has him completely naked and he doesn’t know what to do. He can’t think straight and she has completely entranced and hypnotised him. She is at her most desperate and you can see it in her face, her body movements and those insidious eyes of hers. She will do whatever needs to be done, by any means necessary. This is all thanks to the wonderful vision of Mr. Frears.
Anjelica Huston does a wonderful job of showing her character’s psychological decay.
On the surface, she would seem to be so fearless; however, on the inside, she is fueled by her fear and she is willing to do whatever it takes to stay alive and end up on top. Her methods are almost a twisted take on motherhood. Mothers are always worried whether or not their children have eaten, are taken care, and will survive in order to better themselves. Lily never really grasps the ideology of motherhood, and can only view one person with that level of concern: herself. The director has to be credited with giving the character’s essence such complexity. He had a vision to portray Lily as a very strong and troubled woman. The result with which he was presented, was the ultimate femme fatale. Her descent into madness is shown so wonderfully, yet so swiftly. The scene where she is in the hotel and Roy comes to visit her, you can see that she that she is run down, incredibly anxious, and quite worrisome. After just seeming so sure of herself and confident only minutes ago, she shows that even she can be frazzled. She does her best to conceal it from others, but only Roy can see through her ever-changing facades. I think this is wonderful direction on Frear’s part, for these changes in one’s mental state could have been done so poorly, but he chose to do them with such delicacy and form that they ended up creating a performance worthy of an Academy Award nomination for Huston. When you have a world class actress like Anjelica Huston, can you really expect anything less than perfection? I have always believed that the number one job of a director is to garner the greatest performance possible from your cast, and Mr. Frears does nothing less than receive absolutely stellar performances from the entire cast. The story poses many questions from it’s constant devious actions, but the most important question is one you ask yourself all the time. To what depths would you descend in order to ensure your survival?