“Confidence,” the crackerjack new caper from director James Foley and writer Doug Jung proves, finally, that Ed Burns is a better actor than either Matthew McConaughey or Ben Affleck. Much better, in fact, for he never resorts to the gimmicky smirks or stone-faced stammering associated with clueless actors run amok. Burns combines a working class charm with the requisite cool of an ace grifter to genuinely appealing effect.

Jake Vig (Burns), and his partners, Gordo (Paul Giamatti) and Miles (Brian Van Holt), choose poorly when they pick Lionel Dolby, an accountant, to swindle, because, it turns out, the money they steal is already stolen—from a little terror of a kingpin named, aptly enough, The King (Dustin Hoffman). After both Dolby and Big Al, the gang’s fourth member, turn up dead, Vig promptly approaches The King, and, in a bid to cool tempers and settle his debt, strikes a deal with him.

Targeting a bigtime banking tycoon, Vig offers to hatch an intricate scheme to extort millions from his coffers, then divide the spoils between them. Before setting forth, Vig recruits Lily (Rachel Weisz), a clever pickpocket who puts her fetching sexiness to full use in practicing her trade.

Jung weaves his plotlines briskly and entertainingly, never idling long enough for us to notice the kinks in his story. Once Vig, Lily and the gang strike up their camaraderie, the script hits the ground running, bringing into its fold a discontented lunk of a banker, a pair of weasely cops and the curious snoopings of a grizzled Federal officer (Andy Garcia) sporting the dullest of neckties

It’s clear from the chemistry of this cast that everybody’s having a grand time. Already relishing the go-for-broke spirit and bristling dialogue of Jung’s script, the cast is aided further by Foley’s distinctive character-driven style. He reinforces his characters with enough psychological nuance and backstory to make this a truly compelling gallery of cads and villains.

“Confidence,” however, never slows down to enjoy its own charms. Foley seems obliged to keep his movie galloping along to a needlessly frenetic rhythm. A casualty of this, unfortunately, is one my favorite scenes in which Vig and his gang go to work on a sad sack banker. It’s a scene that confirms the strength of this cast and this material, in which Foley might’ve let his camera rest, so we too might enjoy the slow, predatory nature of their game. While it sometimes fails to live up to its title, “Confidence,” ultimately, wins us over—in short, it dazzlingly does what all good cons are supposed to do.

Grade: B+

Directed by: James Foley
Written by: Doug Jung
Cast: Edward Burns, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz, Paul Giamatti, Donal Logue, Brian Van Holt, Andy Garcia


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