blog

Legal download: Con men on demand

The world of film is changing. For one thing, there’s not much actual film anymore. The future is digital; more and more, it’s streaming on our computers, too. Every week in Legal Download, we survey the landscape online movies to bring you a snapshot of what’s available. This week, we make our mark on the world of con man movies.

THIS WEEK’S THEME: Con Men On Film


I have a proposition for you. See, this guy gave me this watch. He owed me some money, long story, I don’t really want to get into it, but he gave me this watch. It’s a Rolex; look, you can see the logo right there. I’m in a rush, and I need some cash, so I tell you what. Just like he gave it to me, I will give it to you. The watch is worth at least $5,000, but because you seem like such a nice guy, I’ll give it to you for $500. No? Not interested? You think this is a scam and also a fairly silly way to introduce a column on con man movies that are currently available to rent, stream, or purchase online? Well, fine then. You’re no fun.

On SundanceNow
THE SAMARITAN (2012)
Directed David Weaver
$9.99 to rent or stream

Samuel L. Jackson, one of the world’s foremost bad motherfuckers (it says so right on his wallet), returns to his formerly wicked ways with THE SAMARITAN. He plays Foley, an ex-con and former grifter freshly released from a 25 year prison stint for murdering his partner. He’s warned not to return to his old life, but his old life returns to him — in the form of a man who wants Foley to help him with a job. He says no, but you know that famous line from THE GODFATHER PART III about just when he thought he was out they pulled him back in? Yeah, that. That’s kind of the way THE SAMARITAN — and any good con man movie — works. Be prepared for some heavy-duty twists. And just when you think the movie’s over, it pulls you back in.

On iTunes
THE STING (1973)
Directed by George Roy Hill
$2.99 to rent, $9.99 to purchase; $3.99 to rent in HD, $14.99 to purchase in HD

BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID is the Paul Newman and Robert Redford movie most people remember — the fact that this website is connected to the channel that’s affiliated with the festival that’s named for the character Redford plays in it could have something to do with that — but don’t believe the hype. The definitive Newman/Redford movie is THE STING, 1973′s Academy Award winner for Best Picture and one of the best con man movies of all time. Redford plays Johnny Hooker, a two-bit hood who seeks out Newman’s Henry Gondorff to teach him how to play “the long con” and get revenge on Doyle Lonnegan (a ferociously menacing Robert Shaw), the crime boss who murdered his former partner. The con is ingenious and depicted in a way that keeps us guessing right until the very end, and Newman and Redford are both incredibly likable as unlikely partners in crime. As far as I’m concerned, this is the movie that deserves a cable channel dedicated to movies named after it, although I concede that “The Hooker Channel” might give people the wrong impression.

On Hulu Plus
F FOR FAKE (1973)
Directed by Orson Welles
Free for Hulu Plus members

1973 was a pretty good year for con man movies; maybe the Watergate scandal was inspiring people to look more closely at what made people lie and why. For whatever reason, that’s the predominant theme of Orson Welles’ brilliant essay film F FOR FAKE, which opens with Welles on a train station platform, delighting a small boy with some sleight of hand magic tricks. The next sleight of hand is cinematic in nature; a subtle jump cut transports Welles from the station to a cluttered movie studio sound stage, where he turns to camera and addresses the audience directly: “Ladies and gentlemen, by way of introduction, this is a film about trickery and fraud. About lies. Almost every story is some kind of lie.” The lies Welles tells in F FOR FAKE aren’t about con men in the strict Henry Gondorff definition of the term. But his stories about art forgers, charlatans, and magicians, and how all of them are tied up together by the art of storytelling, suggests that the movies themselves are the greatest and most entertaining con of them all.

On Netflix
I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS (2009)
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Free for streaming plan members


Surviving a horrific car accident gives Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) an epiphany: he will no longer waste his life pretending to be something he’s not. He will leave his wife, quit his job as a police officer, and move to Miami where he can be an out gay man. But Steven’s commitment to the truth only goes so far, because being gay, as Steven quips, is “really expensive!” To fund his lavish lifestyle, Steven becomes a con man, and when his schemes land him in jail he meets his soulmate, another inmate named Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). Whenever the two are separated by forces beyond their control, Steven returns to his old tricks in order to escape and reconnect with his man. In a sad and darkly funny irony, Steven and Phillip’s happiest moments come in prison, where they actually have more freedom to be themselves than they do in so-called “polite society.” Out amongst “regular folks,” Steven and Phillip are forced to pull much larger cons about their identities and their sexuality, something Steven had already promised himself he wouldn’t do.

On Amazon Instant Video
HOUSE OF GAMES (1987)
Directed by David Mamet
$2.99 to rent, $9.99 to purchase

While promoting his own con man movie, THE BROTHERS BLOOM, a few years ago, director Rian Johnson picked his five favorite con movies for Rotten Tomatoes, and said this about David Mamet’s HOUSE OF GAMES: “I just think it’s beautifully constructed, and it also really has something on its mind in terms of this kind of dark, sticky psychology of the con and of our human fascination with the con.” He also noted that no list of con men movies is complete without something by Mamet, who’s made three of the very best on the subject: THE SPANISH PRISONER, REDBELT, and GAMES, in which a psychologist (Lindsay Crouse) tries to help a patient by convincing his bookie (Joe Mantegna) to forgive his debt. He agrees on the condition that he helps her with a con, and she gets drawn into his world. OR DOES SHE?!?!? Yeah basically, but it’s fun to add “OR DOES SHE?!?!?” to the end of any con man movie plot summary. Go back through this list and try it for yourself.