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'Confidence' offers a solid story with humor while boosting Edward Burns' career.

Edward Burns made his initial splash as an indie director with the overrated The Brothers McMullen in 1995.

Since that fame-inducing moment, the impact of his directorial projects has dwindled with mediocrities such as She's the One and No Looking Back, and he's experienced only limited success as an actor. While he delivered a promising performance as a sarcastic soldier in Saving Private Ryan, he's participated in turkeys like 15 Minutes and Life or Something Like It.

With Confidence, it appears that Burns is finally ready to deliver on some of that acting promise. Director James Foley coaxes some great work out of Burns in this snappy, often-funny conman movie that manages to be clever in a genre that has seemed played out in recent efforts. That almost casual, just-a-little-smarmy delivery that Burns employs slips quite effectively into the character of Jake Vig, a grifter with a penchant for elaborately staged cons involving actors and plenty of fake blood.

The film starts from its apparent end, followed by a flashback to three weeks previous, with Jake acting as a sort of narrator for the events that led up to his current dilemma. We see Jake and his cohorts (including the great Paul Giamatti) hustling a wormy guy out of $150,000, apparently not knowing that the money actually belongs to an influential crime lord (Dustin Hoffman, in full-blown, wonderfully disgusting mode).

Hoffman is great fun as The King, a shady businessman who decides to use Jake for a big score rather than kill him for thievery. Hoffman, who actually gets away nicely with the film tough-guy cliché of chewing gum vigorously, hasn't been this sleazy since Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy. It's apparent that the man is having great fun with the chance to cut up, and that fun is infectious. While he suffered a bit of a lull in the '90s, his recent triumph in Moonlight Mile, and his fantastic work here, shows that the master is back on his game.

An example of the film's good sense of humor comes when Hoffman's King chastises two new erotic dancers at his club for not sexually teasing each other with more class. Because the dancers pass themselves off as sisters, he's disgusted by their lack of decency in front of people with families and children. He wants them to perform immoral acts on stage, but with a certain level of decency. In a strange way, Hoffman manages to make the criticism make some kind of sick sense.

As for the film's big con, it's obvious that what seems to be going down will not in fact be the case. Filmgoers have become savvy at figuring out mysteries and secrets before they've been revealed, so Confidence has quite the task at hand. That said, the film doesn't cheat upon reaching its conclusions and provides enough legitimate twists to keep even the best guessers on their toes.

Burns should parlay his work in this film to some more acting success. He proves his ability to carry a movie. (Hoffman's role, although fantastic, is minor compared to his.) Giamatti gets a chance to show he's one of the great supporting actors in the business after being wasted in the likes of Duets and Big Momma's House. This will act as a nice prelude to his first leading man role in this year's American Splendor.

A bland performance by Rachel Weisz as a wannabe grifter slows things down a bit, but not enough to make Confidence anything less than a decent, enjoyable film. Perhaps this movie will mark an upturn in Burns' topsy-turvy career.

Confidence
Rated NR

More by Bob Grimm

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