Movie Review: The Secret
By Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune Movie Writer
First of all, "Confidence" has the dopiest ad line I've ever seen: "It's not about the money. It's about the money." The signal to moviegoers is this: We're poseurs trying to sell you second-hand David Mametisms that don't make a lick of sense.
Mamet is often too clever for his own good, but when Danny DeVito says in "Heist," "Everybody needs money. That's why they call it money," we know what this twisted little goon is talking about.
Don't get me wrong: My complaint isn't about the ad campaign. It's about the ad campaign.
As for the movie, well, at least that ridiculous line isn't in it, though by now almost any con-game plot feels like a hand-me-down. These movies always revolve around a mark getting ripped off in some convoluted way, but the mark inevitably is the audience. The filmmakers' job is to fool you, so the viewer's job becomes trying not to get fooled.
As a result, you spend your time looking for misdirections and anticipating double-crosses rather than letting yourself go. So the real trick of such a movie isn't just to get you to guess wrong; it's to make you care. "Confidence" seems handicapped from the start by having Edward Burns in the lead role. He's leading-man handsome. He's suave. And he's so slick and smug that you have no reason to root for the guy.
The movie has a nifty way of offsetting this problem, however: His first line, delivered in voiceover as we see a bloody corpse sprawled on the pavement, is "So I'm dead " Well, OK, if he's dead, I guess we can put up with some smugness.
The story then rewinds three weeks to show us the events that lead up to that point. And the thing is, as much as we may be resisting it, it hooks us in.
Basically, Jake Vig (Burns) and his crew have just snookered a guy who, it turns out, was holding the stolen money for a particularly ornery mob boss nicknamed the King. The King is played by Dustin Hoffman, whose demeanor is anything but majestic. He's stubble-faced and appears particularly low to the ground next to the strapping Burns, and he's what the Seinfeld gang would have called a close-talker.
When Jake meets him for a sit-down at the King's strip club, the boss is practically nuzzling against the younger crook as the pair talk business while the King simultaneously auditions a sister stripper act. It's a funny scene and a funny performance; Hoffman in playful mode doesn't appear to be working nearly as hard as, say, Al Pacino would be, and the King's mood shifts are fast and subtle enough that you get the message you don't want to mess with this guy.
Jake's gambit is to get the King to underwrite a grand scam to fleece a big-time banker the victim chosen by the King so that the King can get his money back and Jake can turn a nifty profit. The con itself is such a Rube Goldberg device that at some point you give up on trying to connect the dots; you figure it will all sort itself out in the end.
Instead, you try to get a bead on who's playing whom among a crowd that includes Paul Giamatti as the crankiest of Jake's sidekicks; Rachel Weisz as the darkly beautiful grifter who joins the crew for this job; Franky G. as the King's representative on the team; Andy Garcia, hard to recognize behind his salt-and-pepper scruff, as a rumpled detective who's been chasing Jake for years; and Donal Logue and the omnipresent, always amusing Luis Guzman as misfit cops on the take.
Of this group, Weisz is the least able to break away from the familiar. Director James Foley ("Glengarry Glen Ross," "The Corruptor") and first-time screenwriter Doug Jung have her going through the basic femme-fatale motions, and you don't sense much chemistry between her and Burns' Jake, mainly because you assume Jake's first love remains his mirror. (Weisz gets to show her stuff in the upcoming "The Shape of Things.")
Otherwise, the cast is engaging, and Foley keeps the action moving swiftly enough that you don't have time to enter analytical mode. Foley even gives the talky scenes a jumpy energy by having cars and passersby constantly zip past the frame a technique that eventually grows wearying.
Jung's script sometimes strains with the Mametisms did a guy shot in the forehead really get it "right in the middle of his egg foo young"? and is a bit too insistent on repeating its themes, such as "sometimes style can get you killed" (words for Jake to live and die by) and "a good con is like a play in which each participant knows his part."
Then again, one key to an effective con is that the con artist shows you everything, and you're still taken in. Complaints about the leading man and the formula's superficiality aside, that's pretty much what happens here: You find yourself tricked and having enjoyed the experience after all.
You know, it's not about being a sucker. It's about being a sucker.
Directed by James Foley; written by Doug Jung; photographed by Juan Ruiz-Anchia; edited by Stuart Levy; production designed by Bill Arnold; produced by Marc Butan, Michael Paseornek, Michael Burns, Michael Ohoven. A Lions Gate Films release; opens Friday, April 25. Running time: 1:38. MPAA rating: R (language, violence, sexuality/nudity).
Jake Vig Edward Burns
Lily Rachel Weisz
Gunther Butan Andy Garcia
The King Dustin Hoffman
Gordo Paul Giamatti
Whitworth Donal Logue
Manzano Luis Guzman