Barry Minkow is a name I haven’t come across before and so creating a movie that’s based around him you’d hope that his story is amazing. Is it?
Minkow, played when he was younger by Justin Baldoni (Jane The Virgin (TV), A Fine Step) and by himself later, was a business whizz kid, founding ZZZZ Best when he was just 16 in the 80’s.
The company was a carpet cleaning business, but Minkow wanted so much more and had a knack for publicity. He begins to make the company look a lot larger than it is and then he begins to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ as the phrase goes.
He starts cheque cutting, then moves into insurance fraud, setting up bogus companies to supply his companies with work (that never existed) and larger and larger schemes.
He also gets involved with some dodgy financiers. The first person to lend him money is Bill Goldberg (American Satan, The Longest Yard) but it’s later when mobster Armand Assante (American Gangster, Judge Dredd) enters the scene that things get really big.
Minkow is, inevitably, caught and sentenced to “eight Super Bowls”, as he puts it, in prison. Whilst in prison he meets Peanut, Ving Rhames (Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, Mission: Impossible) and finds Jesus.
Upon his release he becomes a pastor at a church and helps the FBI, teaching them how to spot fraud to prevent another Barry Minkow from happening. Of course, he hasn’t changed his ways, and whilst he’s doing these good deeds he’s ripping off the church and the local community before he’s caught and thrown back in jail once more.
We’ve had a few of these sort of tails, from Catch Me If You Can to the more recent The Wolf Of Wall Street. Con Man is in a similar vain although co-writer and director Bruce Caulk (Redemption (Short), Chelsea’s Light (Documentary)) and co-writer Jonathan Meyers (Confession, The Best Worst Christmas Ever) add their own style to proceedings.
Whilst this is a film, there are documentary, talking-head style elements as well. In which real people from Barry’s life interject with their thoughts about the man and the story itself. Such as, they can’t believe he decided to play himself in the movie, I’ll come back to that.
The first two-thirds of the film, in which we see Barry’s reasoning for wanting to do all this to begin with, in which he, at first, appears so innocent, are easily the best parts of the movie.
They zip along for the most part and it’s fun to see although the inevitability of it all is obvious. Baldoni plays Minkow well, imbuing him with an arrogance and drive you suspect the real man had at that age.
Where the film begins to fall down is when Mr Minkow himself enters proceedings. The production value feels like it takes a nose-dive and Minkow, for whatever good he has about him, is not a good actor.
There are also parts of the movie that Barry’s real-life compatriots pour scorn over, such as whether Peanut ever actually existed for example, and these things aren’t resolved but played out like some bad 80’s TV movie on some channel you’ve stumbled across late at night.
Con Man never reaches the giddy heights of Catch Me If You Can or The Wolf Of Wall Street, in fact, to compare this to them is a fruitless exercise. Whilst the numbers involved with Minkow are vast, and the man himself appears to have an interesting personality, the movie never manages to get out of second gear and lurches into first for the final third.