Annette Bening, Anjelica Huston, and John Cusack all starring in a thriller about con artists? Sign me up! I had high hopes for The Grifters knowing how well received it was at the time of its release and knowing the immense talent of this cast. My high expectations were met. Not only did I love the cast’s performances but I also loved the storyline and the connections the script weaved between the three main characters. This is one of the best for sure.
While there are three main characters, Anjelica Huston really is the one that comes out on top as the character that drives this story forward. I adore Huston as an actress and she brings her A game here as a woman who works for the mob and ends up coming back into her estranged son’s life. Her character is so interesting and multi faceted. I’m sure Huston reveled in the opportunity to play such a rich, well written character. At first she comes off as this cold con artist but as the film goes on we see some of her more human qualities come to light. She for sure has the most interesting character, although Bening and Cusack’s roles are well written too.
I’m a huge Annette Bening fan as she very seldom makes a lackluster film. Just look at her performances in American Beauty, The Kids are All Right, and The American President. She’s a champ and her performance here as Cusack’s lover is no exception. She plays her role with a bubbly upbeat attitude that is mostly used to attract and to some degree, control men around her. She’s a master at getting what she wants and there isn’t much she won’t do to achieve her goals. Her character isn’t as complex as Huston’s but she still has some tricks up her sleeve and definitely gets a lot to do.
As for Cusack, he plays a young man who has really been dealt quite an unfortunate hand in life. He’s the son of Huston, who had him at a very young age and because of that, was a pretty bad mother to him. He is a small time con artist, but makes the mistake of getting involved with Bening and has the bad luck of having Huston as a mother. Cusack’s character isn’t really likable, but after the film progresses a bit, we come to understand why he is the way he is and that made me feel bad for him. I like how they wrote his character, I especially loved the way we see more of him as a person towards the end. Everyone in this cast is a pro at their craft, plain and simple.
The script is a well written one that pays attention to the characters, builds them up, and gives them real human emotion. Yes, The Grifters is a thriller but it’s not one of those “fun thrillers“, per say. I mean yes it’s entertaining, but it’s a dramatic thriller for sure. Huston and Cusack’s twisted relationship as mother and son is explored and that makes for some very interesting scenes.
And time is taken to go into Bening’s background so that we know a little more about her and who she really is. I thought those scenes were handled very well and made the film more engaging. I love that the writers knew how to balance thrills and suspense with dramatic material and character build up. Some films are only concerned with one out of those two things.
The balance between thriller and drama here is what makes The Grifters superior and entertaining throughout. It never lags either. It’s not too short or too long, so you’ll never be bored. The ending really is something and I can honestly say that I was not expecting an ending like the one we get here. The ending is tragic, sad, and deeply profound; it brings the relationships between these characters full circle and reveals how these peoples behavior can turn out to have horrific consequences. The writers were very smart about the ending because it just perfectly describes the con artist way of life and exposes the consequences of bad behavior in a raw way.
Anjelica Huston said that she fell in love with this film and passionately wanted to do it. After seeing it, I can certainly understand why. If you haven’t seen The Grifters, I heavily suggest you do!