The Grifters (1990)

9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Great looking, great acting, great story


Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Grifters

Studio:  Cineplex Odeon Films

Genre(s):  Mystery/Suspense/Drama

Release Date(s):  December 5, 1990

MPAA Rating:  R


The gang’s all here!

Roy Dillon (John Cusack) likes the short con.  He specializes in little get rich slow games that don’t make him a target but also turn him a quick buck.  When Roy’s caught in the act, he receives a vicious blow to the stomach that leads to his hospitalization.  It happens to coincide with a rare visit from his mother Lilly (Anjelica Huston) who now finds herself at odds with Roy over his girlfriend Myra (Annette Bening) likes to play the long cons for the big money.  As Lilly’s skimming from her boss Bobo Justus (Pat Hingle) begins to catch up with her and Myra pressures Roy to join her in the big con, Roy finds himself trapped and considering getting out of the grift…but once you are a grifter, there is no turning back.

Directed by Stephen Frears, The Grifters adapts the 1963 Jim Thompson novel.  It did poorly in the theaters but loved by critics.  It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Actress (Anjelica Huston), Best Supporting Actress (Annette Bening), and Best Adapted Screenplay and since its release has gained a strong cult following.


How far would you go as a mother is a very different question in this film…

The Grifters just has a grittiness to it that is similar to noir crime thrillers of the ’40s.  Despite a modern LA, the movie just feels older than it actually is.  The characters take trains instead of driving everywhere and the sets often resemble older style rooms and furnishings.

With the noir setting, the accompanying story also helps build a classic feel to the film.  The movie starts out feeling rather light, but even in its lightness there is a dark undertone to the story.  This light feeling soon is shattered and as the movie progresses, it gets darker and darker.  The grifting is no longer fun and by the end of the film, it is possibly as dark as a film like this can get with the worst love triangle ever.


…and that’s how you win the dice game

The actors are all a contributing factor in making this film great.  Anjelica Huston is great as Lily who can go from concern to cold in a second.  Her fears are so masked that the few times they really come out in the film, they are an explosion.  Bening demonstrates a bubbling shielded character that is very similar to her American Beauty character that is willing to do anything to succeed.  Cusack is pretty young in this film and struggles a bit against the other two actors but still brings a nice softness to his character who is really trying to prove something by trying to survive in the cutthroat grifter business.  The movie also is loaded with good character actors that bring some dimension to the film like J.T. Walsh, Pat Hingle, Henry Jones, Charles Napier, Eddie Jones, Stephen Tobolowsky, and a cameo by a young Jeremy Pivens as one of the duped sailors.

The Grifter is a great crime thriller.  It is plot and character driven and not a shoot-em-up nor is it a big con movie like The Sting or Ocean’s Eleven.  The look and style of the film are classic L.A. noire and worth checking out for fans of films like L.A. Confidential and Chinatown which have a distinct Hollywood/California feel.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response