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Business is a 1996 American crime film written and directed by Scots-English director Michael Stern and starring Kevin Spacey, George Clooney, Bill Murray, Joe Pesci, Delaney Dossett, Sal Caparza, Andy Garcia and Jane Giorgina. The film takes place in Havana, Cuba in the early 1960's and is about a Jewish casino owner (Spacey) and a con artist (Clooney) working together to make inroads, often through violence, into the booming cocaine trade.
The film was critically lauded, hailed as one of the best crime films and, to a lesser extend, American films of all time, and earned the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay awards for Stern and won six other awards, including Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, as it dominated the Academy Awards and every other awards circuit. The film established Clooney as a leading man, Spacey as a bankable star, introduced Murray as a character actor in a shift from his typical comedic roles and reaffirmed the position of actors such as Pesci, Caparza and Garcia in Hollywood's upper echelon. It is consistently ranked as the best movie of the 1990's.
The film opens with a voiceover monologue by George Clooney, who describes the Havana underworld as it stands in 1960. Most of the city's clubs are run by Paul Stone (Bill Murray), a former New York real estate developer come south with serious cash and who quickly cornered the market. As he gives a cut to the Mafia, Stone has the protection of serious muscle in the city, mostly personified by Joey Brazini (Joe Pesci), a caporegime in the Viatti outfit who personally sees to it that Stone's competition is eliminated quickly in order to keep the cash flow coming.
An unnamed confidence artist (Clooney) from Yorktown skipping parole by heading to Miami, meets Floridian real estate mogul Billy Donovan (Kevin Spacey) at the Flamingo Hotel and is taken under Donovan's wing, giving him the false name of Peter Watters, which is a name he assumed after stealing a man's suitcase at Miami International Airport. When Donovan helps him avoid detection by local police officers, Watters is indebted to him, who then flies him to Havana to manage his new hotel and casino on Havana's famous Ocean Boulevard.
Watters comes to realize that he and Donovan's icy right-hand-man Tony Passatone (Sal Caparza) are using him as a pawn in their attempts to infringe on Stone's territory in Havana. Passatone, the manager of Donovan's new hotel and a former made man in New York's Benassi family, gives Watters a more fully formed identity, including appointing him as the floor manager of the casino by helping secure him a forged gambling license through Brazini, who owes Passatone a favor.
Donovan eventually arrives in Florida himself with his wife Elisabeth (Jane Giorgina) after Watters has established himself as a competent confidence artist, schmoozing the chief of police in Havana and playing a tense round of golf with the boss of the Viatti family himself, Tom Viatti.
Donovan is concerned about Watters' recent friendship with the Viattis, fearing that he might eventually get bought out. Meanwhile, Watters uses his new friendship with Brazini to be invited to Stone's birthday party on his private yacht in Havana Harbor. He meets and dances with Julia Hayes (Delany Dossett), a beautiful young Havana socialite who demands that Watters "show her a good time" and making sure he is aware that he cannot afford her. Watters also meets Stone and reassures him that Donovan has every ounce of respect and promises to give the Viattis the same kind of kickback that Stone does. "Fair is fair in this business, after all," Stone reminds Watters over cocktails and cigars.
Watters relays these sentiments to Donovan, who describes to Watters his stubborn refusal to pay a dime to the Viattis - namely, because he is certain his close ties to the Benassis in New York thru Passatone would discourage any retribution. Watters is concerned, and these fears are realized when Brazini orders his men to rough up Watters behind the hotel and personally threatens the young con artist to start paying the tribute before Stone gets upset.
When Donovan realizes that the Mafia means business, he sends Passatone and Watters to Cartagena, Colombia to negotiate a deal on bringing cocaine into Havana. Watters, who is pursuing a romance with Julia, brings her along to Colombia and they consummate their relationship while an unknown figure videotapes them from behind a one-way mirror in their hotel suite. Passatone and Watters meet with Colombian cocaine grower Jesus Racon (Andy Garcia), and set up a flow of cocaine into Havana through the import of Colombian beer laced with the cocaine, that will then be evaporated, leaving only the powder behind. In return, Racon gets a small piece of the profits.
The cocaine sales through Donovan's hotel start making more money than the gambling and luxury amenities themselves, which causes the Mafia to begin to wonder where Donovan's money is coming from. Stone abducts Julia and announces that he plans to kill her unless Watters agrees to give the Mafia a cut. Watters emphatically pleads and tries to tell Brazini that it is Donovan who calls the shots, which in turn causes the Mafia to murder his wife.
When Donovan demands that Passatone retaliate, Watters begins to suspect that something is amiss. He tails Passatone out of the city and comes to realize that Passatone is an FBI informant. He knocks Passatone out and drives him to a secluded beach, where he confronts him over how much he's told the FBI. Passatone admits that the Benassis found out he was an informer, but because his uncle was a caporegime, his life was spared and he was sent to Florida where he wouldn't be able to learn anything and to keep the FBI from pursuing possible murder charges if he stopped giving them information. Watters executes Passatone and watches him wash away into the Caribbean.
During a shipment by boat into Port Liberty a few months later in 1964, the port authority seizes several crates of the Colombian beer, suggesting that Passatone was able to tell the FBI what to look for. Donovan is nearly arrested and forced to go into hiding, and his hotel is shut down. Watters is arrested but released on bail - it is revealed that Stone bailed him out to figure out how to find Donovan to collect the remaining cash. Watters agrees to help Stone and the Mob by turning in his friend, but when Brazini and his men arrive at the hotel where Donovan is supposedly hiding, they instead encounter the police and a shootout begins in which all the mobsters, including Brazini, are killed.
It is unclear who tipped off the police - whether or not Watters double-crossed the Viattis, or whether Donovan figured out a way to dupe both sides. Either way, Stone and Tom Viatti agree that both Watters and Donovan need to be gotten rid of. They attempt a hit on Watters with a drive by shooting at his home, which Watters is just arriving to when the assassins pull away. However, Julia was inside the home, and she was killed in the attack.
Donovan contacts Watters to set up a meet. Watters tells Stone where Donovan will be but asks him to not move on him until he is in the clear. In return for turning over Donovan, Stone will let Watters live. Donovan and Watters meet at the same beach where Passatone was killed outside of Havana and they argue over the merits of their failed enterprise into the crime business. Watters accuses of Donovan of ruining a perfectly fine gambling operation that he was running in Havana by trying to outwit the Mob and getting greedy, while Donovan tells Watters that he had no imagination and didn't have the backbone to try to conquer Havana like Stone did, insinuating that much of Donovan's motivation was driven by a jealousy of Stone. Watters pulls a gun on Donovan, who tells him to go ahead, but he cannot bring himself to shoot him. Donovan leaves and drives away, and a black car follows him.
Stone honors the arrangement and Watters goes to the FBI to turn state's witness. In return for his cooperation in their investigation against Stone and the Viatti organization, he will serve a short sentence and then be freed with, once again, a new identity. In the closing scene of the film, a group of Mob hitmen assassinate Billy Donovan at a secluded seaside vacation home to the Intermezzo from Cascagni, and Watters' voiceover reveals that Stone and Viatti were both arrested, tried and convicted for their illegal operations in 1965, and that as a result of the prevalence of organized crime in Havana due to the gambling and cocaine in the city, the state of Cuba passed a statewide ban on casinos in 1967, ending the "Golden Era of Havana" as Watters calls it.