"Confidence" starts out with a lot of energy, but it quickly loses steam as the plot progresses. It opens with a fake murder and a quick explanation of the characters. This is enough to get our attention, but it fails to retain it about midway, when we start losing interest in just about everything.
This is another crime movie about fast-talking thieves playing the game to get a big payoff in the end. It's about confidence, a real term used by criminologists to describe the game and how it is played. Everything is told from one person's perspective, but in these circumstances, we can't fully trust him, and we must come to our own conclusions even when we're given nothing to work with. The mastermind behind everything is Jake Vig (Edward Burns), a good lucking con-artist who contrives elaborate schemes he and his crew act on. He is the narrator, a bad choice to those of us who plan on playing audience-detective.
Vig and his crew stage fake murders, with the intent to scare away the mark while he leaves behind a large sum of money. In the most recent case, the escapee, or mark, was a bagman for the brutal crime lord, Mr. King (Dustin Hoffman). The mark fled the scene leaving behind $150,000. Vig meets King at his strip club to discuss repayment, and to entice him about a scam that promises to bring home $5 million. Vig needs a $200,000 loan to execute the operation , which now makes a $350,000 debt owed to Mr. King.
We expect Hoffman to be the key character in the movie, but he stays in the backseat for the entire time. Unfortunately, he is the most interesting character. We see him a few times in his strip club, a place he never leaves. There's a funny scene where he coaches two new strippers (sisters) on how to properly dance. At least in this movie, the girls aren't really sisters, compared to "The Real Cancun," where they most unfortunately are.
For the short time while King is confronted by Vig, we see there is chemistry. Hoffman plays the master, while Burns' Vig is the apprentice. The relationship is purely professional, and in-fact they are enemies for what they do to each other's gangs early on. Vig is treated like a child, and we are amused as King patronizes him. Vig gets the feeling that he isn't being taken seriously. This is the part of the story that could have worked, but it pretty much ends here.
Vig's crew includes Gordo (Paul Giamatti) and Miles (Brian Van Holt). Deciding that a female would help out in recruiting a lonely and single mark, Vig recruits Lily (Rachel Weisz), a stubborn good-looking girl who of course goes through the obligatory refusal period where she wants nothing to do with Vig until he makes her involvement sound worth while. Tagging along is Lupus (Franky G), one of King's henchmen sent to make sure everything goes as planned. In the back of our minds, we wonder when he will become a problem for Vig.
More players enter the scene. Two corruptible Los Angeles cops (Donal Logue and Luis Guzman) follow close by and interact with Vig. Also on the pursuit is Federal agent Gunther Butan (Andy Garcia). His name sounds like "butane," a good adjective that describes his potential behavior. Butan has been following Vig for many years because they've had previous run-ins before. Although we know the occupations of the LA cops and the federal agent, we never really know whose side any of them are on.
Normally, it's fun trying to figure out whose aligned with whom; picking out the traitors and double agents. But in "Confidence," we aren't given the clues to do it on our own. We must rely on the testimony of Vig himself as he is being interrogated by an unidentified black male pointing a gun at his head. The intercuts take place throughout the film, so we know Vig gets captured after the stunt is executed or aborted, depending on what happens in the end, which course I will not reveal.
The actual con involves fooling a bank executive into transferring money into an offshore account for Vig to later claim. The rest of the story is for you to learn and figure out, but it's not a fun investigation. The characters aren't that likable and the game itself isn't anything new or original.
"Confidence" is directed by James Foley and written by Doug Jung, and they both do a good job. So where does the movie go wrong? While Foley manages to keep the film stylish using flashy colors and atmospheric shadows, there's nothing underneath to appreciate. As for Jung, he wrote a good story, but somehow his characters couldn't be turned into anything worth caring about.
Maybe "Confidence" shouldn't have been told in flashback the way so many other movies have. We should have been able to rely on our own instincts, not those of the confessing character with the ability to deceive and twist the facts. We are forced to remain patient. The only thing we can look forward to is learning whether or not Vig has been telling the truth the entire time. We are waiting in the backseat; sitting next to Dustin Hoffman as bored spectators.
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