The Grifters

Director: Stephen Frears
Screenwriters: Donald E. Westlake

Institute History

  • 1991 Sundance Film Festival


The hard-boiled fiction of pulp writer Jim Thompson has been adapted for the screen numerous times using dramatically different approaches and styles. But rarely have the dark sensibilities of Thompson's universe been so well portrayed as in Stephen Frears's adaptation of The Grifters. The first American-made film for Frears and the initial producing effort by Martin Scorsese's new company, The Grifters focuses on the relationships among three con artists and the web of deceit which alternately binds and destroys their lives. Angelica Huston is absolutely riveting as a hard-as-nails grifter working the racetracks for her savage boss. Her son, John Cusack, whom she hasn't seen since his early teens, is a modestly successful young con man who becomes involved with the sexy and alluring Annette Bening, who's looking for a new partner with whom to pull off larger and more dangerous scams. Their mutual quest for success ultimately plays itself out as a struggle for survival.

Frears directs this film-noir thriller with the stylish flair we’ve come to expect from him, and the performances and cast are outstanding. But this mix of humor and seduction traverses across the familiar plot lines of its genre to bring us a vision that is complex and haunting. The Grifters is a masterful marriage between Thompson's "unique" value system and the psychological power of Frears’s melodrama.

Friday January 18 7:00 p.m.
Egyptian Theatre

Saturday January 19 10:00 a.m.
Prospector Square Theatre


— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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