It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Con men are more appealing than run-of-the-mill villains, who want to take your money because they are stronger or more dangerous than you are. Con men want to take it because they're smarter than you are. And there is hardly ever a con man who isn't likable, because, after all, if he can't win your confidence, how can he take your money? Movies about con men are seductive because the audience is on both sides of the moral issues: We want to see justice done, of course, but at the same time we're intrigued by the audacity of this character who is trying to out-think his opposition.
You can see some of that seductiveness at work in David Mamet's "House of Games" (1987), where a woman psychologist grows fascinated by a con man and asks him to teach her some of the tricks of his trade. Does he ever. The con man is sweet and almost gentle as he devastates his victim. In a sense, he really does like her. In Stephen Frears' "The Grifters," there aren't any outsiders to be seduced, because the three central characters are all confidence tricksters. So they seduce each other.
The movie is based on a 1950s novel, but it's set in the present day. There are a few details that don't translate very well - today's con man probably wouldn't stay in a colorful fleabag hotel, but in a downtown executive suite - but the underlying story is universal. It involves the archetypal triangle of the lover, the loved one, and the authority figure who would separate them. The lover is Roy Dillon (John Cusack), a con man in his 20s, who isn't very good and pulls mostly small-time cons. The loved one is Myra Langtry (Annette Bening), who looks young and sexy but is probably older than she looks and certainly more dangerous than Roy realizes.
And the authority figure is Roy's mother, Lily (Anjelica Huston), who has been pulling cons since a very early age and considers everyone a potential victim. That list would certainly include her son.