There's a caveat or two with which I submit this list of our favorite con artists on film, to correspond with tomorrow's NY/LA bow of The Brothers Bloom (our review from Toronto is here; our interview with director Rian Johnson, there).
One: I have not seen the following -- David Mamet's House of Games, David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner, and
Two: I've seen but don't fully recollect either The Grifters or Nine Queens enough to feel comfortable including them as if I had (I also missed the English-language remake of the latter, Criminal, though I've been told that's for the best). If I were a slier man, then maybe I could fittingly deceive the lot of you, but I'm not, so I won't.
While I don't doubt that the characters in those films would be worthy of a slot on our list, there are still at least seven other con (wo)men in the movies worth shining the spotlight on, and I do hope that you do think that may make do when all's said and done.
1. Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck), The Lady Eve -- Before being oh-so-seductive as Double Indemnity's femme fatale, Stanwyck fell for millionaire mark Henry Fonda, and who could blame him for initially doing likewise on a slow steamer in the Amazon (even if he hadn't just been in the jungle for a year, studying creatures as slithery as her)? "I need him like the ax needs the turkey," she fesses up after being busted, but let's back up a bit and let the woman work her wonders in the scene above...
2. Addie Loggins (Tatum O'Neal), Paper Moon -- At the age of 10, O'Neal became the youngest ever recipient of an Academy Award, and to this day, it's not hard to see why. She, real-life daughter to Ryan O'Neal, plays the potential daughter to his Moses Pray, a Depression-era con artist who seems a bit more legit whenever she's around. Of course they're both initially in it for the money, and of course they'll both eventually be in it for one another, but it's her eerily sensitive and smart turn that really drives it home beneath all the flim-flam.
3. Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) and Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford), The Sting -- This had to be in here, and they had to be a tie. One couldn't take down crime boss Robert Shaw without the other in this Oscar-sweeping rarity of the grifter genre, by which I mean our con men -- one small-time, one has-been -- swindle a fellow criminal instead of some innocent mark for a (lot of) change.
4. Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), The Royal Tenenbaums -- Okay, so this one might be a bit of a stretch, but can you think of any other character willing to feign a terminal illness in order to leech onto his ex-wife and estranged offspring for some room and board? What's more is the look on Hackman's face as he gets exposed, claims that "the past six days have been the best six days of probably my whole life," and then (as narrator Alec Baldwin underlines) realizes that he actually means it for once. Character cons himself into caring? Check.
5. Angela (Alison Lohman), Matchstick Men -- In 2006, Lohman played an older teen in Flicka, and in 2003, she convincingly portrayed an early teen while really being in her early twenties (not a con, just freakishly youthful). Taking her cue from #2, she pops up as (maybe) the long-lost daughter of con man Roy (Nicolas Cage) and helps him snap out of his OCD ways as while being taught the ropes. Spoiler time! She was just playing Roy with partner Sam Rockwell, but when she sold their burgeoning relationship, it sure looked like it meant something... and still could.
6. Lily (Rachel Weisz), Confidence -- Even if it wasn't an excuse to tie things back to Bloom, she showed off the gift of grift in James Foley's 2003 thriller, in which her potential femme fatale (Stanwyck's shadow!) helps Ed Burns and friends swindle a bigger crime boss (Dustin Hoffman; see #3). Her Lily is as smoky and sultry as her Penelope is eccentric and game, and Weisz seems to be having a different kind of fun on each side of the con.
7. Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio), Catch Me If You Can -- Spielberg's tale of a teenage scam wunderkind is actually based on the autobiography of the real Frank Abagnale Jr., with his list of achievements -- a pilot! a doctor! an attorney! -- being the least of the liberties taken by the Beard and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson, and all the more remarkable for it. DiCaprio's as suave in public as he is insecure in private, and whether or not that's true of the man himself, it's a remarkable balancing act and one hell of a story to tell. And, because no one needs much excuse to share them, here are the film's wonderful, wonderful opening credits...