The Grifters is a movie with strong acting. Among the actors and actresses listed in its cast, the film has names like Anjelica Huston, Annette Bening and John Cusack. Certainly, the movie does not sport the best performances ever but its 2 Oscar nominations in acting categories could give you a hint about this aspect of the film. The Grifters has also 2 other Academy Award nominations, for Best Director and Best (Adapted) Screenplay. Now, these two have not been deservedly given. But before we go in details, let's make a brief summary of the plot.
The Grifters is about Roy Dillon (John Cusack), a small-time grifter, his alienated mother Lilly Dillon (Anjelica Huston) and his girlfriend Myra Langtry (Annette Bening), the latter two being grifters themselves but on a far higher-stakes level. Lilly accidentally visits her son only to find out that he has been beaten in a result of an unsuccessful job. She hospitalizes him and saves his life but Roy is not happy to see Lilly even after her good deed. His mother does not like Roy's girlfriend Myra and that additionally strains their relations. Because of the spent time in the hospital, Lilly fails to fulfil a job for her boss, a big-time bookie. Subsequently, this leads to serious problems for her too. Myra tries to convince Roy to become a bigger swindler but he has some reservations about it. As a result everyone becomes suspicious of everyone and additional complications follow.
The plot outline of The Grifters may seem interesting and in fact, it is, for an hour at least. But as the film progresses everything become a mess not only in the characters' relationships but also in the movie itself. The actions of the protagonists and especially the Dillons become more and more chaotic and not well motivated. The son begins to wonder whether to drop cheating or not without any strong reason. The mother that has faced serious consequences because of saving her son, all of a sudden, starts treating him almost like an enemy. Some incest insinuations appear without any good explanation or confirmation. And finally, The Grifters reaches almost to a dead end for both, the characters and the audience. We will skip any deeper criticism of these issues because to elaborate more upon them will mean to completely ruin the movie for you.
Another issue of this film is that Anjelica Huston, although acting very well and in reality being at the right age for the role of Lilly in the movie, seems, for whatever reason, a bit older in The Grifters, which is not good having in mind Lilly is supposed to be a glaringly young mother. Additional problem could be that some of the con jobs seen in the movie are not explained well enough in order even people without an idea about that kind of stuff to get effortlessly their meaning.
As a whole, The Grifters appears somehow pointless. There is not real character development. There is not a message. If the purpose of the movie is to show us how several supposed to be strong criminals transform themselves in a bunch of unhinged people, the goal is not achieved. If the intention of the film has been to announce that shit happens, then it could be deemed successful but still, it does not make the movie any better and there are a lot of other movies that deliver it in a better way.
We can see where the critical acclaim of The Grifters comes from. The acting is good. The film has a very potent premise and during most of its time span the movie and characters are interesting. There are also some plot twists although they are pretty much forced and not very believable. Maybe The Grifters is even based on a good novel (unfortunately unknown to us). But although the film is not all bad, chances are high you'll feel like being grifted after the ending.