Grab fast: Foley's style keeps Confidence alive

Watching the average movie about a con game is like someone throws a thousand-dollar bill in the air and ten people grab for it; your chances are one in ten of getting it.

Watching Confidence is like someone throws a thousand-dollar bill and nine ones in the air and ten people grab; now everybody's going to get something. Are your chances of getting the thousand one in 10 or one in a hundred?

I don't know. I'm as bad at math as I am at metaphors, and this isn't a metaphor; it's a simile.

Where was I?

Oh, explaining how Confidence is 10 times as convoluted as the usual con movie. Screenwriter Doug Jung throws all those bills in the air, and director James Foley juggles them and blows them around to keep you guessing where they're going to come down and in what order. You may come away with a fistful of dollars, but they're going to split the grand.

"So I'm dead," Jake Vig (Edward Burns at his slickest) begins his narration as we see his bloody body lying in an alley. A little earlier we see Travis (Morris Chestnut) holding a gun to his head in the same location as the last three weeks flash before Jake's eyes and ours.

Three weeks ago Jake and his regular team (Paul Giamatti as Gordo, the inside man; Brian Van Holt as Miles and Louis Lombardi as Big Al, the shills; and their paid-off police escort, Luis Guzman as Manzano and Donal Logue as Whitworth) pull off a grift for $150,000 that seems to go smoothly. When two bodies turn up the next day, they find out their mark wasn't playing with his own money but with some belonging to Winston King (Dustin Hoffman), a big-time crook who doesn't like losing money.

Hoffman has a grand time playing every tic Jung could write for him plus a few of his own. A hyperactive, bisexual sex addict, The King, as he's known, devotes his time to running a bar while his criminal activities take care of themselves. He's good at multitasking, negotiating Jake's penance while auditioning a sister act ("You made the artistic choice to go down on each other. I respect that, but you gotta do it tastefully").

Jake and his crew will scam $5 million from the bank run by "second-generation crook" Morgan Price (Robert Forster), King will get his money back with interest, and everyone will go home happy.

But then Jake recruits Lily (Rachel Weisz). At a critical moment she dyes her hair red (a bad omen), and birds fly into his house (another bad omen). The guys debate whether to continue. They're "too old to run... too young for San Quentin."

In the meantime, Special Agent Gunther Butan (uncharacteristically grubby Andy Garcia) shakes down Jake's cops to rat him out; and King has put his own man, Lupus (Franky G), on the inside "to make sure things go smoothly." Lupus is a little guy with big muscles who's capable of big surprises.

It's a clever plan, but as Jake says, a con is like a chess game where you have to be able to think 20 moves ahead of everything your opponent might do. What he doesn't say is that in this game he's not always sure who his opponents are; and even if he is, we're not.

To be sure we stay confused, Foley employs jittery editing for the first few minutes. By the time it calms down we've got an information overload it will take considerably longer to sort out. "Style can get you killed," King warns, but Foley has just enough style to keep his movie alive.

Confidence is a fun romp, and if it teaches you one thing it's that when all those bills are in the air, grab what you can. Somebody smarter than you is going to wind up with the thousand– if they ever threw it in the first place.