(1990)5Brendon HanleyOf the several movies made in the 1990s that mined the original material of writer Jim Thompson, Stephen Frears' The Grifters was easily the best. Adapted for the screen by noted crime novelist Donald Westlake, the intelligent, knowing script is a major strength. Like Frears' previous film, Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters is full of smart, character-driven deceit and intrigue. It's essentially a morality play, but, in keeping with the material's film noir feel, its morals are not simple, and definitive conclusions are unclear. John Cusack, Annette Bening, and Anjelica Huston perfectly portray the three characters involved in the ethical tug-of-war: Cusack finally asserted himself an adult actor with his stylish, sympathetic performance, but Huston and Bening steal the show as the harpies out to devour him. They capture the film's peculiarly fragile tone. With its odd gloss and modern viewpoint, The Grifters is more akin to the post-noir sensibilities of Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye than to such other neo-noir films as Red Rock West or the Thompson-inspired After Dark, My Sweet.