Like many great noirs, CONFIDENCE is told in flashback, narrated, as is also a convention of the genre, by a corpse. How he came to be lying in a gutter with several slugs in him makes for an intricately plotted little tale of crosses, double-crosses, and cons that you won’t see coming. As you watching this tidy little tale unfold, you would do well to ask who’s conning whom, all the while remembering that everyone is fair game.
The corpse is Jake (Edward Burns), a talented grifter who never quite leaves the game behind, at least to judge by the messages on his answering machine from a variety of willing women each calling him by a different name. Jake and his pals have perfected the art of parting the less-than-swift greedy from their money and in the process have made a comfortable life for themselves, until one of the less-than-swift turns out to have been parted not from his money, but that belonging to a local crime lord named, appropriately, King. Let’s just say that King didn’t get where he was by being a nice guy. One of Jake’s guys gets killed, he and the others are next, and rather than take it on the lam, Jake walks right into King’s lair, a sleazy bar with live sex acts and polite bodyguards, to propose a deal. He’ll run a bigger con, get King’s money back, and they’ll be square. Unfortunately, King picks a bank run by the son of a mob lawyer to run the scam on, which is as good as asking Jake and company to commit suicide. Never mind. Jake’s a clever guy and he puts together a con that would make the plans for D-Day look like child’s play and because Jake's a man with a grifting gift, everything working like clockwork, Until, that is, an old acquaintance of Jake’s shows up, a seedy federal agent named Butan (Andy Garcia) who's sporting a week’s worth of stubble, a rumpled seersucker suit, and a heck of a grudge. Hey, it wouldn’t be fun if there weren’t a monkey wrench thrown into the mix.
The reason a film like this will work is that it draws a bead on human nature and not just on the marks involved. They’re easy to figure out. Why wouldn’t a frumpy banker want to add the excitement of a shady deal and luscious shady lady Rachel Weisz’ flirty smile to his life? More interesting are the grifters themselves who are thrown together without the benefit of quite trusting each other. It makes for a rich interplay of personal tensions and some witty banter. Screenwriter Doug Jung comes up with interesting characters, such as cops on the take who aren’t driven to crime because of any moral failings so much as the department’s lousy dental plan. The best is Dustin Hoffman as King, sporting a goatee and skin that looks as weather beaten as a Mojave cactus. He’s a twitchy guy with attention deficit issues, popping Ritalin and espresso while critiquing the latest sex show and menacing Jake with what may or may not be real come-ons. Meanwhile, director James Foley, who wrote and directed the superb AFTER DARK MY SWEET, bathes the action in neon-bright colors that seem to bleed from the regulation shadows of this full-color film noir. His style is as slick and as stylish as leading man Burns, whose gravelly voice and uber-cool are irresistible.
There aren’t, strictly speaking, any honest people in CONFIDENCE, but there are some who are loyal. It not only gives us a reason to care what happens to this motley crew of misfits, but more importantly, it’s perfectly in keeping with the hard-boiled world conjured up by Jung, Foley and company, where good guys don’t just finish last, they probably finish dead. Anything resembling sentiment, cheap or otherwise, would be a cheat. CONFIDENCE is anything but.