Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com
Director: David O. Russell
Screenwriter: Eric Singer, David O. Russell
Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 12/4/13
Opens: December 16, 2013
There’s a reason that the masses of moviegoers prefer narrative fiction to documentaries. Take this paragraph from Wikipedia on the Abscam scandal: “Until 1970, only ten members of Congress had ever been convicted of accepting bribes. In 1978, the FBI launched its first major operation to target corrupt public officials. The FBI hired Melvin Weinberg, a convicted con artist, to help plan and conduct the operation. The FBI formed Abdul Enterprises, Ltd. As its front company for the investigation. They code-named the operation Abscam, a contraction of Abdul scam.”
That’s not bad as encyclopedia articles go, perhaps because it deals with criminals and FBI agents, at least one of the latter being as corrupt in a sense as the principal forger/loan shark. But give director David O. Russell the latitude to take off, to be as undisciplined as he feels like, and you get a movie that’s more of a comedy than a police action, one in which Russell evokes from the ensemble cast a rousing tour de force with over-the-top characters that are difficult not to love.
The movie opens in a comical manner but also one that foreshadows the phoniness and just plain human-ness of the characters. Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) has an extended take applying a rug to his combover, using glue with a thin brush and carefully pasting on the hair, then whipping his own hair over the ersatz material. This guy is a phony through and through, a loan shark, a money launderer and art forger with some legit dry cleaning businesses and a beautiful spitfire of a wife, Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence). Irving’s business becomes ever more complicated as the story progresses as Rosenfeld falls for a fiery redhead, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who joins his scams using the fake name Lady Edith and using a British accent.
When Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) becomes suspicious of Rosenfeld’s dealings, catching them in the act of one scam, he forces the man to work with the FBI in order to avoid jail, requiring him to allow the Bureau to arrest some higher-ups including Camden, New Jersey mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). The money prize is two millions dollars, supposedly a down payment on ten million that the Mob under killer Victor Tellegio (Robert De Niro) requires in order to set up casinos in Atlantic City.
Conflicts abound across the board, each leading to comic intervals that make the two hours and eighteen minutes fly by. Rosalyn is envious of her husband’s new mistress, Sydney. FBI agent DiMaso falls hard for Sydney, humiliating himself to get the lass to his bed. . And DiMaso is having problems with his straight-laced boss, Stoddard Thorsen (Louis C.K.), the latter unwilling to use two million of FBI money for the sting. Carmine and Irving , by contrast, form a duo of mutual admiration, the mayor having no idea that he’s being entrapped
Zany as the picture is, there is a lack of tension throughout, though maybe this is what director Russell and co-scripted Eric Singer choose—to bring out the comic nature of bureaucrats and criminals, and provide more than enough fodder to embrace the war between the sexes.
Crew members do a bang-up job, particularly Linus Sandrgen behind the lenses, Jay Cassidy as editor and everyone associated with providing the cast with the ugly costumes of the late seventies and early eighties.
While the actual arrests of congressmen, one senator and some state officials are doubtless more serious in real life, this movie gives the impression that life is a jolly carousel of human nature, with crime-busters and lawbreakers going full circle.
Rated R. 138 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+