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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
dir Gregory Jacobs
scr Gregory Jacobs, Sam Lowry
with John C Reilly, Diego Luna, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Mullan, Jonathan Tucker, Zitto Kazann, Brent Sexton, Lillian Hurst, Michael Shannon, Juan Carlos Cantu, Ellen Geer, Laura Ceron
release US 10.Sep.04, UK 18.Feb.05
Who's stinging whom: Gyllenhaal, Reilly and Luna
See also: NINE QUEENS (2001)
Rodrigo (Luna) is a young Latino working as a small-time conman in L.A. when he's taken under the wing of the much more ambitious Richard (Reilly). They decide to spend one day working together, during which they stumble across a major con to sell a rare bank note to a visiting businessman (Mullan). But Richard is also having trouble with his angry sister (Gyllenhaal), and their brother (Tucker) still doesn't know what's really going on here. Does anyone?
Movies about conmen are always difficult because by their very nature they give away the secret: There will be a twist or two. So the only way to make them interesting is to do something unexpected. Which kind of eliminates the possibility of a remake! Especially of a film that was a minor arthouse hit around the world. And also when the remake is a non-starry indie likely to play in those same arthouses.
That said, Jacobs is an adept director, capturing the characters and story with clarity and insight, using a handheld camera style to good effect and getting strong, lively performances. Reilly has the untrustworthy workmanlike conman down pat--we want to like him but we know he's up to no good. Gyllenhaal is superb as his vindictive sister, exuding bitterness from every pore! Even the way she walks is full of contempt. And Luna is the real discovery with a strong leading performance that's intriguing, witty and charming--and also tricky and mysterious.
Remake fever is gripping Hollywood, and this lack of imagination is shown in the way these remakes add nothing to the films that inspired them. They badly underestimate their audience, assuming we haven't seen the real thing. But it's been done before with originality and creativity, so why watch an imitation, no matter how slick it is?
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