Confidence (2003) Review
Confidence was directed by James Foley (Fear, At Close Range), written by Doug Jung (Scalped, Star Trek: Beyond), and stars Edward Burns (Man on a Ledge, Echelon Conspiracy), Rachel Weisz (Envy, The Constant Gardener), Paul Giamatti (Billions, Man on the Moon), Brian Van Holt (Deputy, Man of the House), Franky G. (Blowtorch, Laugh Killer Laugh), Luis Guzman (Traffic, Alone at Night), Donal Logue (Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, The Cloverfield Paradox), Andy Garcia (5 Days of War, Dead Again), Morris Chestnut (Heist, Kick-Ass 2), Robert Forster (Night Vision, Peacemaker), and Dustin Hoffman (The Graduate, Ishtar). It’s about a con man who’s forced to pull off a heist while being tailed by the cops and supervised by his employers.
The Plot: Sometimes puzzles (for those who still do them) come without necessary pieces, ruining the image. If Confidence were a puzzle, all the pieces would be there, and they make a satisfactory image, even if there are better, more beautiful images to be made.
Jung opens with con artist Jake (Burns) under the gun of criminal muscle Travis (Chestnut), who demands an explanation as to events we haven’t seen. This isn’t a new storytelling technique, but the fluidity and clarity Confidence maintains is better than most. The stolen money came from Jake’s most recent job with his crew, but after one of them is found dead, Jake, Gordo (Giamatti), and Miles (Van Holt) realize the money they took was from crime boss King (Hoffman).
In a great switch-up, Jake goes the appeasement route, and as recompense, the crew – and new addition Lily (Weisz) – agree to repay the man by robbing Price (Forster) under the supervision of King’s man Lupus (G.), which becomes the main plot while one revolving around FBI agent Butan’s (Garcia) efforts to catch Jake by way of his associates makes up Confidence’s other thread.
As far as Foley’s destination is concerned, there are few deviations from established tropes, but his polished filmmaking makes the routine nature of the overall narrative significantly less of an issue. While badged forces including former crooked cops Manzano (Guzman) and Whitworth (Logue) circle the crew, the taking of $5 million from Price goes forward until the two major plotlines converge with a typically convoluted ending twist. However, the difference here is the script’s emphasis on stylized lies, which gives Confidence the leeway to pull off the post-modern posturing steeped in its narrative.
The Characters: Because the whole scheme has so many facets to it, there are a lot of characters to keep track of. Depth is largely sacrificed in favor of surface level personality, but with a cast like the one Foley has assembled, the personality is all he needs.
Jake and the crew have the friendliness and specializations necessary to sell them as a unit. Being the de facto leader puts the calm, cool, and smart-mouthed Jake in the most danger, but he’s the best under pressure. Gordo is the most principled of the foursome, driven by his closeness to the others and his hatred for skewed city planning budgets.
Miles is the logical people person who’s not quite as eager to take unnecessary risks, unless they look like Lily, and Lily herself is a competent pickpocket but a better actress and deceiver than all of the men. They’re a crew that shares similar traits to many others, but the performers have better chemistry than most, keeping them all believable.
Where the antiheroes of Confidence are all grounded, Jung makes a decision to give the antagonists of his script a level of intensity to tower over them, and with interesting quirks, it’s a worthwhile one. One might not expect the eyes of the employer to have their own personality, but Lupus gets some bits of one. He’s personable, if a bit rough, and appreciative of Jake and company’s smarts, and turns into an asset for them, even if on some levels he doesn’t know it.
King is personable too but in all the wrong ways. His ADHD keeps him intensely mannered and active, smacking gum, pacing his establishment, perving on women, and nicknaming everyone in his presence with full knowledge that he gets under their collective skin. Butan is a bit too cartoony, but the opposing force is vivid.
Since Confidence has one of the most talented and underrated casts of the 2000s (Logue notwithstanding) and some zippy but not overbearing writing, the personalities are memorable where the characters themselves occasionally fall flat.
The Crime: Success is had for the vast majority of Confidence’s criminal behavior. With a comprehensive setup, execution, and payoff, it may not break molds or be remembered as one of cinema’s greatest grifts, but it is smart and engaging.
Introductions are overloaded here, with a flashback within a flashback getting the initial con underway, but that job isn’t mentioned all that often, making the forward-ish progression of Confidence via a surprising turn of events a plus. Jake’s decision to come clean about his crew and their mistake to King, as well as Foley’s coverage of the setup, is a smart move that gives credibility to their methods which are revealed in the final minutes.
A grand and involving plan is front and center for much of the runtime, and it’s a clever one. Price is a banker with a side hustle of money laundering, so for Jake, Gordo, Miles, Lupus, and Lily to get away with monitored currency, their work is cut out for them. They have to coax an employee to give them a loan, cash the loan in a foreign country, and get it back to the US undetected.
It’s an interestingly indirect heist, and despite its inconspicuousness, like any good heist, it doesn’t go off without a hitch because of a bad decision made by Lily. Of course, to give much more away would ruin the payoff, but Jung manages to bring all of the threads and characters together in a meaningful and illuminating way by making a con out of a con.
Much of the aforementioned material does live directly in the shadows of other, more original schemes, which files down the memorability of Confidence’s overall crime, but for those who like sophisticated and well-played jobs, there’s a lot to like.
The Technics: Raw filmmaking facets aren’t strictly required with a script as clever as the one cooked up by Jung, but they can elevate said script. Confidence is a rather pedestrian product at times, but there are flashes of originality and panache.
By enhancing the focus on Jake’s knowledge of scamming, the tone of the movie gets a boost. It’s a knowing film, as shown by the leading man’s familiarity with putting on a show for the same result and encouraging his cohorts to follow suit, but it’s never too meta either. Scenes with King are more traditionally direct about a job being a job, but even they have some pep to them by way of dialogue. Moments where Confidence jumps the shark are present, but minimal.
Tangible parts of the movie are above average overall, such as the bouncy score by Christophe Beck (The 12th Man, Date Night) which pairs nicely with the acting and script even if it does occasionally try too hard, and the cross-cut editing that’s chock full of sliding transitions courtesy of Stuart Levy (Foxcatcher, Driven) further enhance the personality of the film. Its relatively minimal budget prevented the noir lighting that would’ve sealed the deal, and the costuming is rather bland, but the effort is still laudable.
Confidence lives up to its name, with a clear-cut yet shrouded master plan, uniformly strong acting, and singular choices in post-production, the film may not be all that original, but it has character and style.