(director/writer: David O. Russell; screenwriter: Eric Warren Singer; cinematographer: Linus Sandgren; editors: Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, Alan Baumgarten; music: Danny Elfman; cast: Christian Bale (Irving Rosenfeld), Bradley Cooper (Richie DiMaso), Jeremy Renner (Mayor Carmine Polito), Amy Adams (Sydney Prosser), Jennifer Lawrence (Rosalyn Rosenfeld), Louis C.K. (Stoddard Thorsen), Jack Huston (Pete Musane), Michael Pena (PacoHernandez / Sheik Abdullah), Shea Whigham (Carl Elway), Alessandro Nivola (Anthony Amado), Elisabeth Rohm (Dolly Polito), Paul Herman (Alfonse Simone), Said Taghmaoui (Irv’s Sheik Plant), Matthew Russell (Dominic Polito), Thomas Matthews (Francis Polito), Adrian Martinez (Julius), Anthony Zerbe (Senator Horton Mitchell), Colleen Camp(Brenda); Runtime: 138; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison, Jonathan Gordon; Atlas Entertainment; 2013
“It sucks you into its alluring story as if you were a mark.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A fictionalized take on a true 1970s incident involving the FBI working a sting operation with con men to entrap politicians to take bribes from a fake Sheik (it was known as the Abscam case, where the FBI sting operation arrested more than a half dozen U.S. legislators on bribery and conspiracy charges, while the Mafia guys got off free). The characters here are for the most part unappealing but their snappy outrageous lifestyle has a dazzle that gloms on to us.
It’s written and directed by David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”/”Three Kings”) as a playful goof on law and order, and is co-written by Eric Warren Singer to keep it edgy, sexy and subversive. The slight film’s strength is that it sucks you into its alluring story as if you were a mark.
Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is the lying, sleazy, womanizing, Bronx Jew, low-rent con man living in the fast lane, whose seductive business-partner mistress, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), admits her lover is not a good-looking guy but that she can live with that. He has a big belly and a hideous looking comb-over toupee, which he vainly thinks covers up his ugly side. Irving loves more than anything else to be running a confidence game. It’s what makes him think he’s a winner. While his mistress has made herself into his equal as a scam artist, and loves living the outlaw glamor life.
Things turn when the wacky con artist couple are recruited by an ambitious FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who entraps them to work for him and is driven to madness thinking of the power he will achieve by putting an end to some well-known corrupt politicians and thieves.
The couple are used to assist in a big-money undercover operation related to political bribery (one involving some of the top power brokers among the criminal–political elements) for new development in Atlantic City). The bad guy players include the likable nice guy Camden mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) and a Miami crime boss (an unbilled and hardly recognizable Robert De Niro). Also associated with the mobsters and on the FBI radar is Irving’s unpredictable ball-busting insanely jealous alcoholic trophy wife Rosalyn Jennifer Lawrence).
The three main characters, Irving, Sydney and Richie, are all shady characters not to be trusted, and when loyalties shift and their motives for doing what they are doing reveal their ulterior motives for doing what they are doing, things get really interesting as they use a fake sheik ( Said Taghmaoui) to get investors for a fake casino.. It was a trip watching the hustle unravel in a twist ending, as Russell’s sharp dialogue has things to say about honor among thieves, meaningless friendships and superficial love. I must note that Jennifer Lawrence’s saucy and very funny performance stole the film’s actor honors from a fine star cast at the top of their game.
The soundtrack is loaded with great ’70s rock song tableaus, adding much to the period appeal of a very entertaining film.
REVIEWED ON 5/7/2021 GRADE: B