“Funny, witty and all round entertaining.”
Who doesn’t want to see Christian Bale singing ‘Delilah’ in a New Jersey bar? Or even Jennifer Lawrence rocking out in rubber gloves to ‘Live And Let Die’? Director David O. Russell spoils us with his whirlwind 70’s caper filled with big collars, mad hairstyles and parties – marrying in his performers from his last two movies, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, to create an authentic period piece. Co-writing the screenplay of a story its broadly based on, you may feel Russell’s direction and story-telling may conform to his signature film-making. But does this look to go on a different path completely?
Two con-artists, Irving (played by Christian Bale) and Sydney (played by Amy Adams) fall madly for each other and make a life for themselves playing fake art dealers in 70’s New Jersey. That is until Richie (Bradley Cooper), an FBI agent who puts a stop to their smart crimes, recruits the pair and uses their skills to go after a bigger target, corrupt Mayor Carmine (Jeremy Renner). All things are going according to plan, with the lovers looking to pull a secret escape con themselves, until the scheme is made all the more harder with Irving’s secret care free wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) on the scene.
Right from the off, you get this very quiet opening as Bale’s character Irving applies his routine of fixing his immense comb-over, you get the sense that we’re going to kick back, and have ourselves some fun. And do we have fun. Russell’s previous films have all been about serious subject matters of commitment and illness, even within a family setting, but the one liners and comedic touches run all the way throughout effortlessly. Some of the arguments and confrontations are done with tongue in cheek, showing that even though these characters are smart and manipulative, they’re still as mad and bonkers as each other.
Oddly the family aspect gets put to one side and the style, the glamour, the cleverness of the con playing out becomes the through line. That’s not to say we aren’t treated to brilliant performances, but the film loses its balance in comparison to David O. Russell‘s previous work for once. You have high moments of song, dance, swinging 70’s soundtrack and exuberance of nail polish, fine cuisine and jewellery, stuck together with very toned down, very quiet and subtle character moments of enormity. Don’t expect dysfunctional family aspects too much – in fact quite the opposite. The main message of the film is about survival, about doing what it takes to get ahead in the world, even if that means backstabbing the ones you care about. But that’s never glorified and the film never loses its heart in doing so.
Christian Bale goes completely against type with his beer gut, gold chains and hair-raising Irving, slowly unable to keep a lid on things when operations begin to spiral out of control. Equally brilliant is Amy Adams as the calm collected partner in crime Sydney, looking to actually find a way out of the con game and live a real life for a change. Jennifer Lawrence is as eccentric and loveable as always as Rosalyn, showcasing even further how much of a massive screen-presence and maturity she has, while Bradley Cooper‘s aggressive, front foot chasing undercover agent Richie is played perfectly like a coiled spring increasingly waiting to erupt.
It’s funny, witty and all round entertaining. Attention to detail both in the design and story ebbs and flows beautifully throughout with Russell getting brilliant performances yet again from a talented ensemble cast. It’s tonally and structurally different from anything he’s done before, but it’s welcomed with open arms in becoming one of his more memorable and extravagant movies to date.