Home Movies by Decade Movies - 1990s Grifters, The (1990)

Grifters, The (1990)

Abounding in suspense, eroticism and dark comic twists, this is a subtle and stylish film noir about three con artists or “grifters,” set in a stylised Southern California.

Lilly Dillon (a blonde Anjelica Huston) is a grifter who has spent most of her life working racetracks for the Mob (she bets on long shots to lower the odds). On a job in Los Angeles – which she pronounces “Los Angle-ees” – she drops in on Roy (John Cusack), the son she had at 14 and hasn’t seen in eight years.

Roy isn’t pleased by her visit – his platinum-haired, stiletto-heeled, tight-skirted mother makes him nervous. But Lilly has arrived just in time.

While trying to pass off $10 bills as twenties, Roy got bashed in the stomach with a bat. Now he’s haemorrhaging. Lilly takes him to the hospital, where she tells the doctor, “my son is going to be all right. If not, I’ll have you killed”.

At Roy’s bedside, Lilly meets her son’s girlfriend, Myra (Annette Bening), a scamming sex kitten who has kissed too many frogs in her search for a prince. Lilly is not impressed.

For her good deed, Lilly has missed a track date and gets brutalised by her boss, Bobo Justus (a ferocious Pat Hingle), who grinds his glowing cigar into Lilly’s hand and then helps her on with her coat.

Needing money to escape from Bobo, Lilly first tries to steal her son’s cache and, when caught, tries to seduce him.

“I want that money, Roy,” she whispers, pressing her lips against his. “What can I do to get it?”

She will go to any lengths to survive, as the film’s violently unsettling climax attests. Huston’s performance is devastating, and it brings this pitiless psychodrama disguised as a B-movie very close to greatness.

Lilly Dillon
Anjelica Huston
Roy Dillon
John Cusack
Myra Langtry
Annette Bening
Bobo Justus
Pat Hingle

Stephen Frears