The Commercial Con

ConfidenceTonight I went with some friends to see the new movie “Confidence,” which stars Edward Burns and Rachel Weisz as a pair of con artists at odds with Dustin Hoffman. Before I get into commenting on the film, let me just tell you that what I’ll remember the most from this evening is that there’s no escaping advertising, even if you’ve paid the exorbitant ten dollar ransom on a movie ticket. Advertising is unstoppable.

Twenty minutes before the show started, during the time that my friends and I would normally spend chatting and joking and generally enjoying one another’s company, we were assaulted by commercials. I don’t mean trailers, though those came right afterwards, I mean commercials. In fact, if you think of trailers themselves as commercials (as they clearly are, though they are often so entertaining many people think of them as content) then these are actually commercials intended to tide you over until the real commercials.

“The lesson is: Anything can and will be advertised anywhere.”

Preceding each feature, Regal Cinemas, which runs the theater we went to tonight, has a twenty minute block of paid advertising that they call “The Twenty,” or something similarly insipid. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching broadcast television during this loud, overly long invasion of your time, so similar are the spots and the products they advertise to what you get at home. The block amounts to an attempt to shout down any kind of independent thought or non-consumptive dialogue that the ‘captive’ audience might engage in, and it’s completely frustrating.

I’ve often said that perhaps the number one economic lesson we learned from the 90’s was not that rabid speculation in unproven businesses is to be avoided (because surely we’ll see another dot-com-style craze in the next fifty years). Rather, it’s that anything can and will be advertised anywhere. It’s disgusting.

The Movie

Anyway, I was not well rewarded for tolerating such brazen greed. “Confidence” was slick and competent, but painfully familiar, and while it was occasionally enjoyable it left me cold. There is an inherent thrill to the concept of heists, capers and confidence games, but every movie in recent memory that attempts to capitalize on that built-in energy has been scarred by a peculiar kind of generic quality (I guess that’s why they call it genre filmmaking), and this one is no different.

If you’ve seen Mamet’s “Heist,” Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven,” if you plan to see the impending remake of “The Italian Job,” or, especially, if you’ve ever caught “The Sting” playing on on your local TV station on a rainy Saturday afternoon, then you have a head start on this movie’s plot, characters and conceits. And if you read “The Big Con,” David W. Maurer’s seminal exposé of the culture of confidence artists, from which I would say about 60% of this movie was cribbed, then forget about it; you’re done with “Confidence” almost as soon as it’s begun.


One Comment

  1. Good point indeed. In Kuala Lumpur, they show beer commercials all the time which really is the only form of commercials they show. I know you were in Singapore for a while, and while I’ve been there plenty of times, I’ve never caught a movie there, not sure if it’s any different.

    I’ve been lately shocked at how many blatant commercials they now show before trailers. I caught Identity last night (decent, worth watching), and I always tune out when they’re showing the slides for local businesses and broadcast ads.

    As for heist/caper movies, I am a little appalled but still intrigued by the remake of The Italian Job. The original is my favourite movie of that genre and all-round too. The new one looks a little cheesy. Though I’ll still probably watch it. They need more Mini Coopers!

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