A con man, Irving Rosenfeld, along with his seductive partner Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso, who pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.
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In the late 1970s, while America was swinging to rock n roll, exposing all its flashy jewelery over plunging necklines and under unruly hairdos, a scandalous entrapment planned by the FBI threatened several political figures and rocked the nation in its most oddly alluring time. David Russell reunites his cast from his previous best movies including 'The Fighter' and 'Silver linings playbook' to tell us the story of con artists who are led by the FBI to trap bigger fish in an attempt to expose corruption at high levels. This highly fictionalized version of the Abscam sting by the FBI has some meaningful conversations, witty dialogue and glorious nonsense in its overlong narrative.
In an era of resurgent wealth and dynamic lifestyles, success is achieved with compelling ambitions amidst increasing competitiveness, only through some hustle. Right through his childhood years of conning people for his father's business, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) used the guise of legitimate businesses such as dry cleaning to conceal his beguiling loan schemes.
Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), initially suspicious of Irving's businesses, soon becomes his partner in bed and crime. Her fake identity as Lady Edith Greensly not only attracts investors lured by her supposed British financial contacts but also by her revealing attire. Soon enough however, the con-artist duo is in the grips of FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) who intends to entrap a New Jersey Mayor along with several Congressmen. Aided by a wire operator and a bogus Sheikh Abdullah (Michael Pena) who was to provide the funds for the redevelopment, the hustling of mayor Carmine (Jeremy Renner) begins with Richie, Sydney and Irving hustling each other in the process. If that wasn't enough, Irving's loud mouthed, cleavage flashing housewife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) gets them all on the edge with her erratic outbursts and ignorance of the entrapment.
This sexy looking inspiration of the Abscam operation lacks a fast-paced plot and intrigue that made other conman films such as 'Catch me if you can' and 'Argo', exciting movies. Loud characters protract several insipid sequences that outlast their importance from the script. The seriousness of the entrapment plot is often overshadowed with the digressed focus on the characters and their relationships and while this dilutes the story-telling, it isn't such a bad thing when you have such a talented cast. However, one can only go so far with just acting, good looks, sexy styles and 70s tunes. David Russell fails to engage the audience with a tight script and twists in a con-artist's story that are only few and far apart. Clearly, style over substance was his approach here with entertainment left solely upon the actors' talents.
Christian Bale put on 40lbs for this movie. It isn't the first time he has transformed himself on-screen and won't be the last. This con-man draws a line on his wrong doing and hesitates on going too big with the plan. His love for Sydney grows through the movie but always comes second to his son's well being. Irving has everything likeable about him, even his weirdly meticulous wig. His softer, more intelligent character is a sharp contrast to his unabashed wife. Jennifer Lawrence plays everything that is wrong and right with the film. Rosalyn can be a big mouth, whining incessantly and trying hard to prove her worthiness. But she can also be the one character whose presence just makes you nod in disbelief about what she will do next. That uncanny ability and its unpredictable deliverance is surely Lawrence's talent at work that doesn't fail to impress. Bradley Cooper is a hot-headed FBI agent whose ambition gets the better of him. There are many scenes where he clearly improvises, such as enacting Louis C.K.'s agent Thorsen and the epic moment when Sydney lays herself out on the table for him, he gets so close and simply can't handle it. The most striking aspect of Cooper's performance is that his character is so unconvincing. He is ambitious and he has the con-artists by their necks in his elaborate plan but he is still an amateur who is guided by instinct rather than experience. Jeremy Renner's Mayor Carmine shows his devotion to his city and while it took some major hustling to draw him into the plan, those interactions with Irving were quite a delight to watch. Amy Adams looks sensational and sizzles in the chemistry she builds with Irving and Richie. She portrays wit, grace and spontaneity as they adapt to changing scenarios during the sting operation and remains ever focused on the plan. Adams may not be as loud as Lawrence nor as multi-dimensional so to speak but her screen presence is equally alluring.
David Russell hasn't showcased his fine talents in a script that needed to be funnier, wittier and tighter. The actors improvise on their greyish characters and provide more entertainment than the script possibly could. That certainly isn't the film-maker's achievement but he did choose the right cast that could pull that con off on the audience. Perhaps that is the year's biggest hustle from hollywood that bends the audience into liking material that is portrayed to be far greater than it should be accorded for. Enjoy it for the gorgeous women, the committed actors and the stylish times but do not get ensnared in the hype surrounding this hustle.
- 6.701 on a scale of 1-10.
In this nihilistic portrayal of American society in the 1970s, we are told that if you want to get ahead you have to lie, cheat and steal. Ethics are turned on their head as we are lead to believe that the con artists are good and the law enforcers stupid and incompetent. The audience is supposed to loose respect for all the institutions of Western civilization and be lured over to a culture of deception and hypocrisy. All of the personal relationships portrayed in this movie are tainted by cheating and are always dysfunctional.
Humour is the weapon used to attack the FBI, who try to mount a sting operation involving a Mexican FBI agent pretending to be an Arabian Sheik Investor. In a meeting with an ominous Mafia boss played by Robert DeNiro, DeNiro's character begins a conversation with the ostensible Sheik in Arabic! This shows the Mafia man to be more educated and resourceful than the clumsy crew of FBI clowns who are trying to entrap him.
The protagonist Irving, is a Jewish businessman played by Christian Bale who, in addition to running a dry cleaning chain, cultivates a more lucrative embezzling operation, on the side as his so called “real” business. He is made up to look and sound reminiscent of meat-head in the 1970s TV Show All In The Family. Even his wife played by Jennifer Lawrence is made up to look like a hybrid of Gloria and Edith from the same sitcom, which is very funny and well executed by the actress. But it is still a throw back to the subversive shows of the 1970s like All In The Family and MASH, whose goal was to ridicule patriotism and trash conservatives.
All in all it is mediocre socio-political conditioning but it is laced with some sarcastic humour. Everybody is a hustler or con artist, even if most are unaware of it, according to Irving.
Not even all the A list stars can save this movie. The story line is bad and all the fake accents are just another thing that is annoying. It had a strong Casino feel to it. Then when Robert De Niro comes in that brings it full circle. By far the worst part was the ending. It was terrible in almost every way possible. Skip this one and you shouldn't regret it! 4/10