Do you know a con when you see one? Here are some flicks that have more than a few tricks up their sleeve, now available on Netflix Instant.
Nicolas Cage is a con man suffering from all sorts of phobias, Sam Rockwell is his smooth protege, and they’re on the verge of pulling off the biggest scam of their lives… and then Cage’s 14-year-old daughter (Alison Lohman) — a daughter he didn’t know he had — shows up out of nowhere. What follows is a funny, clever and ultimately heartbreaking story of a trickster who finds his moral conscience and personal redemption from a situation that inevitably ends up having more than a few hidden layers. Cage is terrific here, his nuanced performance full of ticks and twitches kept from turning into schtick by director Ridley Scott, and Lohman is on fire — her performance raised more than a few eyebrows (and, somewhat unfortunately, she has yet to top it).
So what’s a movie starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford and directed by George Roy Hill that’s better than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Heh, heh… well, it isn’t The Sting, but it comes damn close to topping that classic Western. This 1930s tale of two grifters who instigate a plan to con a mob boss (Robert Shaw) out of some of his money and a lot of his pride is a sheer delight, not the least of which is its snappy musical score, featuring Marvin Hamlisch’s take on Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” Newman and Redford are terrific, of course, and Shaw is excellent as the creepy Irish mobster with the even creepier limp (which was apparently real — Shaw banged up his knee playing handball in Beverly Hills a week before shooting started).
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a “nicer” film about con men — or, perhaps, a more charming one. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is definitely one of the most big-hearted movies about despicable men ever made, a smooth and savvy tour de force from director Frank Oz following the uneasy off-and-on alliance/rivalry between a suave master of the game (Michael Caine) and a rough-and-tumble small-timer (Steve Martin) as they attempt to woo a rich widow (Glenne Headly) out of her fortune. While Scoundrels is a lot of things, it might end up being more bizarre than anything else, especially the extended sequence where Martin pretends to be Caine’s “special” younger brother, Ruprecht. “Not Mother?!”
Shade is the kind of movie that has characters with names like “The Dean” (Sylvester Stallone) and “The Professor” (Hal Holbrook), though while it might be trying to be a little too “cool” for its own good, this is one great grifter flick, managing to make card-playing scenes seem really intense (even moreso than Rounders, and that did pulled it off in spades). You get to learn a thing or two about a small con or three as well, not to mention the opportunity to see Stallone make good on the potential he showed in Cop Land — yeah, the guy can play complex characters, and play them well. You also get a particularly slick performance by Gabriel Byrne, a not-as-embarrassing-as-usual one by Stuart Townsend and the smoking hot slinkiness of Thandie Newton. Yowza!
Speaking of Rounders, here’s the freaky Russian card shark from that movie as a guy who pretends to be Stanley Kubrick! Believe it or not, Color Me Kubrick is actually based on the true story of Alan Conway, a con man who managed to pass himself off as the notoriously reclusive film director in exchange for money, free drinks and even the occasional sexual favor. Kubrick himself actually got wind of this guy while he was shooting Eyes Wide Shut (1999) — Kubrick’s assistant, Anthony Frewin, went on to write the screenplay. Yeah, it’s basically a one-joke wonder, and it’s also basically a one-man show — though one starring John Malkovich, who makes the most of it with his strange performance as a guy who really, really wants some attention.