The Grifters (1990)

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Released 27-Jul-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1990
Running Time 105:33
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (51:03) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Stephen Frears

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Anjelica Huston
John Cusack
Annette Bening
Jan Munroe
Robert Weems
Stephen Tobolowsky
Jimmy Noonan
Richard Holden
Henry Jones
Michael Laskin
Eddie Jones
Sandy Baron
Lou Hancock
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Elmer Bernstein

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Danish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    I saw this film originally some years ago and despite not remembering many details, I did remember that I enjoyed it. Accordingly, I was keen on the chance to view it again. As I have mentioned in other reviews, John Cusack is one of my favourite actors and this also made me want to review this disc.

    The term grifter refers to a person who swindles by means of deception or fraud. The film's three main characters all fall into this category in different ways. Roy Dillon (John Cusack) is a small time conman who learnt that small cons are the best from his mentor. Therefore, he spends his time pulling small cons such as swapping a 20 dollar bill for a 10 to get more change than he should. His girlfriend, Myra Langtry (Annette Bening) is, unbeknownst to him, also a con artist. She focuses on using sex to get out of paying for things and has previously been involved in bigger cons with more risk but bigger payoffs. The third main character is Roy's estranged mother, Lilly Dillon (Anjelica Houston) who works for a major bookmaker, Bobo Justis (Pat Hingle). Her job is to attend race meetings and place strategic bets to reduce the odds on a particular horse, thus reducing Bobo's risk of needing to make a big payout. I will not give away any more of the plot, but these three characters, their actions and interactions form the basis of this movie.

    This is an excellent modern film noir, which I enjoyed seeing again. The acting from the main three is exceptional which, despite their reprehensible characters, keeps you interested in the outcome. This was John Cusack's first major 'adult' role, after appearing in a number of teen films. The production itself is very classy and sucks you in right from the start. The film opens with a quote from the song The Lady is a Tramp, and then follows this up with a cool set of titles. Next, the three main characters are introduced by way of a three way split screen. The film, despite being very dialogue driven does not drag at all and entertains for its one and three quarter hour runtime, thanks to the snappy direction by Stephen Frears. Incidentally, Martin Scorcese was one of the producers and also performs the opening voiceover. If you are looking for happy endings and characters you can empathise with, look somewhere else. These characters are underhanded, nasty and looking out for themselves at all times, but fascinating nonetheless.

    Basically, if you like film noir or thrillers in general this is well worth a look.

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Transfer Quality


    The video quality is reasonable but no more.

    The feature is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio 16x9 enhanced which I am guessing is the original aspect ratio.

    The picture was reasonably clear and sharp throughout, with no evidence of low level noise, however there was some light grain throughout and some scenes seemed a little soft. Shadow detail was poor with night scenes either showing very few or next to no details.

    The colour was good throughout with all colours being well saturated and free from colour bleeding. The skin colouring was reasonably natural but slightly pale, although this may have been intentional.

    There were quite a few white specks on and off throughout the film, noticeable when you are looking for them but not too bad. There was some fairly noticeable edge enhancement quite regularly through the movie. I noticed it especially at 11:02. Thankfully there was no noticeable aliasing.

    There are subtitles in four languages not including English which is a shame for the hearing impaired. Unfortunately I do not speak any of the languages involved so cannot comment on their accuracy.

    This is a dual layered disc and the layer change is well placed and not terribly distracting at 51:03. It occurs at the end of a scene.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio quality is good, but despite the encoding was very front focussed. The film is quite dialogue focussed so this is not a big issue.

    This DVD contains only one audio option; a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack encoded at 448 Kb/s. Despite the encoding this sounds more like a 3.1 soundtrack as the surrounds are virtually not used.

    Dialogue was clear and easy to understand.    

    There were no problems with audio sync.    

    The score of this film by Elmer Bernstein is excellent and perfectly suits the style of film. He has been nominated for eleven Oscars for his scores and has won once. Despite this particular score not being nominated, the quality certainly shows.

    The surround speakers were not used in any noticeable way.

    The subwoofer was used occasionally for music but did not seem to get much use otherwise.


Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The menu included a scene selection function and the ability to choose from the four non-English sets of subtitles but precious little else.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc (when compared to the Region 1 release) misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

    Based upon the above, the Region 1 disc is clearly the pick, especially considering the frontal focus of the Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Incidentally, the description above refers to the Miramax Region 1 release. The film was previously released to DVD in Region 1 by HBO.


    This disc contains an excellent  modern film noir featuring great performances by John Cusack, Anjelica Houston & Annette Bening.

    The video quality is reasonable but certainly nothing special.

    The audio quality is good, but very front focussed.

    The disc has no extras, which is shame for a film of this calibre.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Daniel Bruce (Do you need a bio break?)
Saturday, July 31, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 1200, using Component output
DisplaySony FD Trinitron Wega KV-AR34M36 80cm. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL)/480i (NTSC).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-511
SpeakersBose 201 Direct Reflecting (Front), Phillips SB680V (Surround), Phillips MX731 (Center), Yamaha YST SW90 (Sub)

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