The Fiddle Game

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?


4 comments on “The Fiddle Game

  1. Dave says:

    I know it’s been five years since the last Ocean’s movie but it could be just that it’s difficult for scripts to top that franchise. For example you’re probably going to need a twist on the con men concept…

  2. debbiemoon says:

    Yes, I suppose the “Ocean’s” movies do have some con elements – though I’d have to say that, since the money is stolen rather than voluntarily handed over by the mark, they’re really heists…

  3. Dave says:

    I understand there’s a heist element but because their robberies rely so heavily on deception (and they do not coerce their “victims” through physical force) I still think they are cons. But potato, potatho…

    Perhaps though the lack of con movies is simply because persuading some to voluntarily hand you over money isn’t very visual. For example David Mamet has made several con movies and they tend to be very dialogue heavy rather than action heavy.

  4. When I think of a good con movie, Match Stick Men comes to mind, with Nick Cage. That story was a con within a con. Very interesting. Peirce Brosnan played a spy who cons the government, but I forgot the movie’s name. There needs to be more con movies. Of course, we would think this. I think the line from Hemingway and Gelhorn applies here; “all writers are good at lying.” We imagine what is not true and try to describe it in a way that makes it seem true. If someone believes in us, in our story, they hand over the money.

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