Thanks to Sherman Cymru and Aberystwyth Arts Centre, last night saw one of my occasional hesitant digressions into theatre. The Sherman is running a theatre writing programme called Spread The Word in venues around Wales, finding writers relatively new to theatre and putting them through a five week writing course. The writers then turn in a short piece of writing, either a complete piece or an extract from something longer, and three pieces are chosen for a public rehearsed reading.
So last night, Tony Jones, Catrin Fleur Huws, and I saw our masterpieces performed to a small but friendly audience, and were then dragged on stage to answer questions and receive feedback. All jolly good fun –
But actually, seeing my piece performed reminded me of a question I’ve been asking myself for a while. My piece was about a group of conmen (and women) who gather for a ‘job interview’ to join the world’s most revered grifter and his crew, only to start to suspect that the situation is rather more complicated than they thought.
So, judging from last night, confidence tricksters work reasonably well on stage. They certainly work on TV – Hustle has been a huge hit in the UK, and Leverage (one of my all time favourite shows) is an equivalent hit in the US. Not to mention shows like White Collar, Psych, and even Burn Notice, all of which draw on the “big con” – false identities, elaborate schemes, obtaining information or money by deception – to some extent.
So why aren’t there more movies about con men?
Yes, yes, The Sting, I know. A huge hit in its time, and a classic piece of cinema. But apart from that? Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a recent movie about grifters that’s been a real commercial success. The Argentinean Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens) is a clever and emotionally engaging film, but really only played to the artwork crowd, and an English language remake, Criminal, never really found an audience – possibly due to that bland, uninformative title? The Brothers Bloom vanished without trace, and so did corporate espionage caper Duplicity, a grifting movie in all but name.
So what’s going on? If Leverage can stuff an average of two cons, a heist, and a fight sequence into 42 minutes, it can’t be that cons are too complex to fit into a feature length movie. Is it that we find it hard to bond with a central character who spends half the movie pretending to be someone else? But spies do that, and we love spy movies…
No, I’m genuinely stumped on this one. Over to you, my valiant readers. Why are there so few successful con movies?