It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Confidence" is a flawless exercise about con games, and that is precisely its failing: It is an exercise. It fails to make us care, even a little, about the characters and what happens to them. There is nothing at stake. The screenplay gives away the game by having the entire story narrated in flashback by the hero, who treats it not as an adventure but as a series of devious deceptions which he can patiently explain to the man holding a gun on him--and to us. At the end, we can see how smart he is and how everybody was fooled, but we don't care.
The obvious contrast is with David Mamet's "House of Games," which also told a story of cons within cons, but which had stakes so high that at the end the victim called the con man's bluff by--well, by shooting him dead, after which he didn't have any twists left. We cared about those characters. "Confidence" lacks that passion and urgency; there are times when the narration sounds like the filmmakers at a pitch meeting, explaining how tricky their plot is and unable to keep the enthusiasm out of their voices.
That's not to say the movie, directed by James Foley, is badly made. It's great-looking, with its film noir reds and greens and blues, its neon Bud Ice signs, its shadows and mean streets, its sleazy strip clubs and its use of wipes and swish-pans (sideways, up, down, sometimes two at a time). You know this is a crime movie, which is nice to be reminded of, except that every reminder also tells us it's only a movie, so that there is no possibility that we can commit to the characters, worry about them, want them to succeed or fail.
The movie stars Edward Burns as Jake Vig, a confidence mastermind, who has a crew of regulars and uses them to stage fake murders in order to scare marks into running away without their money. One day he makes the mistake of stealing $150,000 from the bagman for a nasty crime lord, Mr. King (Dustin Hoffman). He confronts the King in his strip club and tells him he'll get the money back, but first he wants the King to supply an additional $200,000 as seed money for a $5 million scam Jake has in mind.