The title refers to con artists like Roy Dillon (Cusack), who makes a living palming dollar bills in bars, or Myra (Bening), the feisty drifter who tries to steer him to the big time after a petty scam lands him in hospital. But the most ruthlessly survivalist is Roy's mother Lily (Huston), employed by the Mob to work a 'playback' scam at racetracks, and liable to be beaten up or have a cigar stubbed out on her hand just to teach her a lesson. Lily is perceived as a woman of great tragedy, still possessed of the maternal instincts she needs to try to save her long-neglected son, imbued with a toughness that helps her overcome constant terror and loneliness, and sufficiently tainted by life to both desire and finally destroy her offspring. Donald Westlake's excellent screenplay does some justice to the starkness of Jim Thompson's novel; and Frears' direction never fails to grab the attention, even given the weaknesses of Cusack and Bening as the existentialist young love interest. Anjelica Huston is quite astonishing; as Thompson is a kind of dime-store Dostoievsky, so Huston's Myra seems straight from the pages of Euripides and Sophocles.
Cast and crew
|Screenwriter:||Donald E Westlake|