David O. Russell deploys his deranged genius to explore the real events behind Abscam, cleverly focussing on the inter-relationships rather than the details of the elaborate sting operation. So under the wild 1970s hair and costumes, we have a series of characters who are never very likeable but are still hugely engaging. Which makes this one of the most prickly, exhilarating movies of the year.
As the opening caption says, "Some of this actually happened". It's set in 1978 New York, where lowlife conman Irving (Bale) is making a decent living with his girlfriend Sydney (Adams). Although his wife Rosalyn (Lawrence) knows something is up. Things get even more complicated when Irving and Sydney are cornered by FBI agent Richie (Cooper) and forced to co-operate in a complex scam to entrap mobsters and dirty politicians, including the likeable Mayor Polito (Renner), with whom Irving strikes up a friendship. As things develop, the sting continually threatens to spin crazily out of control. And Irving starts to worry that Sydney is getting far too close to Richie.
Intriguingly, even as the story gets more and more insane, Russell keeps the story grounded in the characters and the way they interact with each other. So their shifting relationships, power struggles and internal jealousies take centre stage, blurring the details of the undercover operation into the background. This may annoy viewers who want clear insight into Abscam, but it makes the movie much more involving. And it gives the actors a lot to work with. Each of them delivers a powerhouse performance that blends the character's distinct physicality with a complex inner life.
We can't help but be drawn to all of them, even though - or perhaps because - they're losers and don't know it. In this sense, the stand-out performance comes from Lawrence as a woman who is utterly sure of everything and also completely misguided. The extended sequence in which she and Adams circle around glaring daggers before finally confronting each other is a masterful bit of writing, directing, acting and editing, mainly because the scene seems to be about something else entirely. And this is Russell's genius: drawing us in before he reveals what he really wants us to see. This may be a telling story of human survival, but it's also breathtakingly entertaining cinema.
Run time: 138 mins
In Theaters: Friday 20th December 2013
Box Office USA: $150.1M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Production compaines: Annapurna Pictures, Atlas Entertainment, Columbia Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 230 Rotten: 18
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: David O. Russell
Screenwriter: Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell
Starring: Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld, Bradley Cooper as Richie DiMaso, Amy Adams as Syndey Prosser, Jeremy Renner as Carmine Polito, Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld, Louis C.K. as Stoddard Thorsen, Michael Peña as Paco Hernandez, Alessandro Nivola as Anthony Amado, Robert De Niro as Victor Tellegio, Jack Huston as Pete Musane, Elisabeth Röhm as Dolly Polito, Dawn Olivieri as Cosmo Girl, Erica McDermott as Abbie Abrams, Colleen Camp as Brenda, Shea Whigham as Carl Elway, Saïd Taghmaoui as Irv's Sheik Plant
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