***½/**** Image A Sound A Extras A
starring Edward Burns, Rachel Weisz, Andy Garcia, Dustin Hoffman
screenplay by Doug Jung
directed by James Foley
by Walter Chaw The urban surfaces of Americana are lent the sheen of Edward Hopper's neon isolationism by cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchía in the appropriately named Confidence, which finds director James Foley back on noir ground, where his footing is firmest. It's the same effect generated by Foley/Anchía's Glengarry Glen Ross, here in Confidence used to mellifluous affect rather than staccato at the service of a caper flick if not the equal to Jules Dassin's seminal contributions to the genre, at least several times better than the slickified nonsense (The Score, the Ocean's Eleven remake) and sinkholes of talky illogic (Heist) of recent fare. A successful heist film as rare as a film that uses Edward Burns correctly in a sentence, Confidence is proof positive--if proof were needed--that James Foley, when he's at the top of his game, is at the top of the game.
Jake (Burns) is a confidence man, a con artist extraordinaire who, with his crew, endeavours to swindle hapless marks out of bundles of green. Ripping off the wrong guy (King (a feral Dustin Hoffman)) with the fuzz on their trail (Butan (a filthy Andy Garcia)), Jake agrees to take on a dame (Lily (Rachel Weisz, just breathtaking)) who, Drugstore Cowboy-like, is not only bad luck in a hot glass but also seems intent on tripping every con superstition in the book. Twisting and turning on the strength of genre convention and a smooth treatment of the seamy underbelly, Confidence is winning and breezy. The same things that, oddly enough, are the keys to a good fix.
Directed with style and the kind of deft assurance born of having trod this territory once or twice before (see also Foley's fabulous Jim Thompson adaptation After Dark, My Sweet), Confidence trusts its cast to understand their lines and their characters and, in so doing, trusts its audience to appreciate a crime yarn told with intelligence and flair. Its surprises and twists not nearly so important as the panache of its unfolding, the picture represents the sort of thing to which Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven aspired: effortless cool, all looking good and talking smart. Economical and wry (its prologue and structure borrowed from Wilder's Sunset Blvd.), Confidence overachieves past its modest aspirations. The picture is more than a star vehicle for its most conspicuous cast member: it's a coming out party of sorts for the 'til now-insufferable Burns and the incandescent Weisz, and a homecoming for director Foley. Originally published: April 25, 2003.
by Bill Chambers Confidence makes its DVD debut in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of terrific beauty. Hues dazzle--cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchia adds emerald green to his Glengarry Glen Ross palette of primary reds and blues, and the Lions Gate release handles the intense floods of colour without breaking a sweat. Infrequent shots appear solarized, giving skin tones a metallic texture; this minor intermittent glitch--usually a sign of poorly-integrated CGI--is the only thing that cheats the video presentation out of top marks. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is one of the loudest in recent memory, and happily, it's also quite immersive, from casual traffic noise to nightclub-district atmosphere. Recorded at the same amplitude as music and effects, dialogue can be a tad hard on the ears, but it costs the mix some visceral impact if you compensate by lowering the volume proper instead of just the centre channel.
The platter contains three movie-length yakkers, the first featuring James Foley ("Director's Commentary"), the second Doug Jung ("Writer's Commentary"), the third Edward Burns and Rachel Weisz ("Cast Commentary"). Foley and Burns are old pros at this and it shows, although the latter tends to behave like a drill sergeant towards Weisz, granting her permission to speak. Jung skimps on the details of how an agent-less aspirant got his spec script in the hands of a mini-major studio, but he's generous with his recollections of Dustin Hoffman's process--and more forthcoming (well, less self-congratulatory) about it than the actor himself has ever been in interviews. Foley's aesthetic observations provide a nice counterpoint to the rather more anecdotal nature of the other commentaries.
A 27-minute episode of Sundance Channel's "Anatomy of a Scene" covers the scene in which Jake rallies his troops to pull their biggest con yet, and here the film is likened to, with demonstrative clips, The Sting and Foley's own At Close Range. Once again, the editing section of one of these specials proves the most revelatory: we learn how an internal point-of-view gimmick in Jung's screenplay became a crucial story point as it was fleshed-out in the editing room. Six minutes of outtakes wherein Dustin Hoffman improvises an audition for strippers (though he's clearly enjoying himself, the bit is out of character and was wisely lifted), a non-anamorphic, stereo "soundtrack presentation" (see sidebar), and hidden trailers for Confidence, Godsend, The Hard Word, and Finder's Fee round out the disc. Originally published: September 1, 2003.