Director James Foley weighs in with one of his more commercial entries with the smartly executed "Confidence," which highlights an elaborate sting pulled by a team of slick operators, who may or may not be looking to scam each other.

Director James Foley weighs in with one of his more commercial entries with the smartly executed “Confidence,” which highlights an elaborate sting pulled by a team of slick operators, who may or may not be looking to scam each other. While it doesn’t quite match the panache and humor of Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven,” which it resembles in many ways, it is a stylish, compelling crime caper full of smoothly navigated plot twists. Distinguished by an electric supporting turn from Dustin Hoffman in an uncharacteristic role, the Lions Gate release should perform solidly within the genre’s parameters when it hits theaters in April.

Doug Jung’s tightly planned script opens with the body of Jake Vig (Ed Burns) lying on a Los Angeles street in a pool of blood, and explaining in voiceover how he got there.

Rewind to three weeks earlier as a con job goes down, landing Jake and his crew thousands when the terrified mark scrams during a heated weapons standoff. But when the mark and one of Jake’s team turn up dead, it emerges that the swindled man was an accountant for eccentric crime boss King (Hoffman).

Knowing it’s only a matter of time before King gets to them, Jake goes to him first at his nightclub. He explains the unintentional error in judgment and agrees to repay the money by pulling off a major con.

In this and the handful of other scenes in which he’s featured, Hoffman gives a wickedly sharp, prickly performance that ranks among his best in years. Creating a bracing alternative to the standard crime kingpin, the actor juggles irritation with amusement and admiration for the charming upstart who refuses to be intimidated by him. Keeping the threat of physical violence low but nonetheless perceptible, he flirts playfully with Jake while establishing who’s boss, and at the same time auditions a lesbian sister act as if he were Flo Ziegfeld.

King insists the swindle be pulled on criminally connected banker and money launderer Morgan Price (Robert Forster), considered an impossible target. The crime boss sends his henchman Lupus (Frankie G) to join Jake’s crew and monitor the job firsthand. In addition to regular partners Gordo (Paul Giamatti) and Miles (Brian Van Holt), and two crooked cops (Donal Logue and Luis Guzman) also on the payroll, Jake enlists sexy pickpocket Lily (Rachel Weisz) to pull off a complicated scam involving corporate loans and offshore wire transfers.

Signs of bad luck soon follow, and further trouble surfaces in the form of Gunther Butan (Andy Garcia), a disheveled federal agent long after Jake.

While there’s nothing significantly new going on here, Foley’s polished direction and Jung’s clever script expertly stack enough multiple deceptions and surprise turnabouts to keep the action ticking. The increasingly complex mechanics of the scheme are elaborated with clarity and dexterity, and the audience is kept guessing about the trustworthiness and loyalties of the shifty characters. Stylistic touches like direct-to-camera dialogue and graphic inserts at times seem a little gratuitous and derivative.

D.p. Juan Ruiz-Anchia supplies plenty of visual muscle with his sinuous camera moves and lightning pans, matched with Stuart Levy’s nimble editing. Cool electronic tunes complete the sleek package.

While he lacks the movie star charisma to make Jake the truly dynamic, magnetic force he should be, Burns has more spark here than usual, and his handsome looks and relaxed self-assurance fit the bill. Giamatti gets a generous share of the script’s sharpest dialogue, while Brit thesp Weisz registers as savvy and seductive, and Garcia brings an appealing smirk to his small role as a slob with some surprises up his sleeve.

Confidence

Production

A Lions Gate release of a Lions Gate Films presentation in association with Cinerenta of an Ignite Entertainment, Cinewhite production. Produced by Marc Butan, Michael Paseornek, Michael Burns, Michael Ohoven. Executive producers, Eric Kopeloff, Marco Mehlitz, Eberhard Kayser, Scott Bernstein. Directed by James Foley. Screenplay, Doug Jung.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Juan Ruiz-Anchia; editor, Stuart Levy; music supervisor, Joel High; production designer, Bill Arnold; set decorator, Maria Nay; costume designer, Michele Michel; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), Thomas Brandau; assistant director, Max D. Day; casting, Sheila Jaffe, Georgianne Walken. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 20, 2003. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Jake Vig - Ed Burns Lily - Rachel Weisz Gunther Butan - Andy Garcia King - Dustin Hoffman Gordo - Paul Giamatti Whitworth - Donal Logue Manzano - Luis Guzman Miles - Brian Van Holt Lupus - Frankie G Travis - Morris Chestnut Morgan Price - Robert Forster

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