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Setting Up the Perfect Score: 10 of the Most Memorable Movie Cons of Recent History
What is a scheme? According to the dictionary, it's an elaborate plan that incorporates many different players with an end game that's meant to exact justice or make certain people a lot of ill gotten money. Sometimes the schemes are in it for the long haul, while others are short term risks that thrill seekers go after to feel alive. Both options involved a lot of risk, but the reward was just as big if not more in some cases. One of the best ways to tell the tales of thrill seeking troubles of course is on the big screen with memorable actors dressed incognito for the part.
Hollywood sometimes gets it right (2001's Ocean's Eleven) and other times simply miss the mark (the original 1960 Ocean's Eleven with the Rat Pack being themselves). Here are a list of ten films that had memorable plot schemes that helped elevate the story to another direction. Sure, some of the schemes may have been flawed and not even close to foolproof, but they were still fun to watch. Some deserving films may have missed the cut for various reasons (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Freshman and The Grifters). The list itself is divided into four categories involving complexity, ulterior motives, revenge and personal vendettas. Read on to decide what's worth watching for the first or the fifteenth time. Also think about what other films are worth discovering that haven't been mentioned.
The Double Switch- Gambit (1966)- Gambit edged out both versions of The Thomas Crown Affair simply because of the end plot twist that revealed the crime was more about appearance than anything else. English thief Harry Dean (Michael Caine) had a foolproof plan to make a wealthy recluse (Herbert Lom) lose his most prized posession. A statue that resembled his beloved late wife. In order to expose him, Dean recruited an Eurasian dancer named Nicole Chang (Shirley MacLaine) to pose as a look-alike to the man's late wife to strike his interest and keep him distracted from the heist. What went wrong was that Nicole wasn't going to fall in line with Harry's plan and his attraction for the inexperienced Nicole also provided problematic as well. Caine and MacLaine had surprisingly good chemistry that also made the plot's illogical elements go down more smoothly. A remake is currently in the works with Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz stepping in for Caine and MacLaine. It sounds promising, especially with the Coen Brothers involved in the project, but most remakes tend to fall short of the original. Only time will tell.
The Wire Con-The Sting (1973)- The Sting reteamed Paul Newman and Robert Redford as two con artists who joined forces to exact revenge from a mobster (Robert Shaw) by taking his money in a complicated wire con that required a lot of players. The plan also needed to be filled with contingencies in case something went wrong. It's like a whole season of Leverage but much better and minus the elaborate technology. After all, it was set in the 1930s. Newman and Redford's comedic rapport and genuine friendship made the film stand out and beat Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Another film about two con artists (one younger and brasher and the other a more seasoned vet) working together or against each other depending on the situation. Leaving the audience to guess which is which.
Bait and Switch-Confidence (2003)- This film might be considered a lower caliber than The Sting but it followed a similiar principal of a regular guy con man (Edward Burns) who went too far and caught by a dangerous mobster (Dustin Hoffman). Now he has to work overtime to get out from under him and do the ultimate score that will set him up for life. Unfortunately, he meets a fellow con artist in Lily (Rachel Weisz) who will either be his salvation or his doom. The real scheme of the movie was about who was being truly conned: Hoffman or Burns. The answer's obvious but still a joy to watch.
Robberies With Differing Motives
Train Robberies/Bolivia Heists- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)- Okay, Kid might've been more about the buddy comedy between Robert Redford (Sundance Kid) and Paul Newman (Butch Cassidy). The crimes themselves were more comical than truly serious. The train heists had some genuine humor like the one where Butch had his crew overpack an uncrackable safe with too much dynamite that ended up destroying everything on the train car as well. When the duo started robbing banks in Bolivia, it was hysterical to watch them hold up the bank through a foreign language neither one could master. The final confrontation that left the duo going out in a blaze of glory was the perfect way for Redford and Newman to be remembered in this film. Go out fighting no matter what happened in the end.
Subway Robbery/Hostage Standoff- The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)- The original film stands the test of time, and one flawed 2009 remake, because of an equally game cast and a memorable plot. Audiences could identify with the grizzled transit employee (Walter Matthau) who did his job no matter how little he got paid and the minimal respect he got from his hard work. As Zachary Garber, he was the perfect foil to the charismatic Blue (Robert Shaw) the leader of the robbery pack holding Pelham 123 hostage. On the surface, the crime seemed simplistic but those robbers had everything planned out from their arrival to their exit. The one that registered the most was Shaw's escape from the cops and how he was able to "evade" prosecution without actually doing so. That scene will last longer than the actual film itself.
Justice By Any Means Necessary-To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)- Secret Service Agent Richard Chance (William Petersen) always lived life on the edge by bungee jumping off of bridges for sheer thrills and always risked everything to catch bad guys. He reached his ultimate breaking point when his partner/best friend was murdered by counterfeiter Eric "Rick" Masters (Willem Dafoe). Masters was the picture of criminal cool until it was necessary to kill someone who threatened his way of life. He was exact opposite of Chance. He lived below the radar in order to not get caught. With the help of his new partner (John Pankow), Chance breaks every rule in order to get Masters. That even meant committing a robbery that led to a man's death. The real twist was that Chance ended up getting his man, but he wasn't around to see it. His drastic choices led to him paying for his mistakes the hard way. Despite a weak ending (actually the last 10 minutes to be exact), L.A. is still considered to be one of Director William Friedkin's most underrated films. A more recent example would be this fall's Drive which had a stellar cast, a great story and L.A. atmosphere glore. Just not the respect that it truly deserved from audiences.
Revenge By Staged Murder- Fatal Attraction (1987)- Most audiences might be unfamiliar with this ending of Attraction, because it was actually left on the cutting room floor. This ending was a far cry from the vengeful Alex (Glenn Close) getting shot by Dan's (Michael Douglas) wife in the bathtub. The film's original ending had Alex's demise go down a more calculated route, which led to her killing herself and making it look like her former lover did it. She even got his fingerprints on the murder weapon (the kitchen knife she wielded during their scuffle at her apartment). This ending would've been a surprising conclusion if only it was given a proper way to wrap up. The way it was shot simply didn't ring true to the rest of the film and was why it was rewritten with the more satisfying one. It's a shame because it had the potential to be a shocker.
Revenge by Mini-Cooper- The Italian Job (2003)- It's the oldest motive in the book for any crime: revenge. A way to right past wrongs or an act so heinous that someone has to pay for it. That's the premise of this 2003 remake which expanded upon the 1969 Michael Caine original by focusing on revenge through a robbery. Charlie (Mark Wahlberg) and his cohorts planned to rob their former pal (Edward Norton) who betrayed them and killed one of their own years ago. He stole a lot of money and literally got away with murder. In order to pull off the heist, the gang had to create a traffic jam that they could avoid by using Mini-Coopers to swerve around everyone with ease. The idea seemed like a car commercial, but it ultimately worked in the end.
Befriend and Betray- Bad Influence (1990)- How do the meek take control of their lives? By the gentle guidance of a mysterious new friend that pushes them out of their comfort zone. Michael Boll (James Spader) was a meek businessman living a bland life until he meet Alex (Rob Lowe). Alex was a mysterious man who pushed Michael into making the first move with a new woman (Lisa Zane). He also got Michael into committing some petty crimes for sheer thrills. Unfortunately, Michael didn't realize that Alex was a lethal psychopath until it was too late and the only way to get rid of him was by deadly force. The movie had a promising premise that would've been better served if Spader was Alex and Lowe was Michael instead. The leads switched roles than the movie would've fared a lot better than it did when it was first released. It was still nice to see Lowe behave badly onscreen, but it was a risk that he should've taken sooner in his career before he was typecast as a flawed pretty boy.
Partner Swapping With Consequences- Consenting Adults (1992)- Many people believe that married couples who swing to spice things up always lead to disaster. In the case of Adults, that theory definitely holds true. Meet Richard and Priscilla Parker (Kevin Kline and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) an ordinary suburban couple hitting the normal strides in their marriage. They don't realize what they've been missing until they meet their new neighbors Eddy and Kay Otis (Kevin Spacey and Rebecca Miller) who live in the ultimate of excess. Expensive vacations and following every one of their impulses no matter what. The Otis family proposed that the couples swapped partners for one night. Unfortunately, that one night ended up nearly destroying the Parkers' marriage and started a deadly game that left a growing body count. Promising premise that floundered due to some over the top acting by most of the cast members. This movie would benefit from a remake that would allow the actors to truly enjoy the campy plot premise.
In the end, the true key to a movie's ultimate success is the plot. If the story isn't working, no amount of acting can save a mediocre script from destructing onscreen. Look at the 2010 forgettable film The Con Artist which had a decent cast that couldn't overcome a rather disappointing script. Not every film can rank up there with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels or even a poor imitation of it, unless Michael Caine was possibly in it. Sometimes the movie schemes are flawed just like in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but they are still enjoyable to watch nonetheless. And that's all that matters.