This is a darkly wacky romp of a movie populated with over-the-top characters who are devious, clever, manipulative and fascinating. They are unabashedly driven by their overarching needs and ambitions and woe be the person who gets in the way. They will never let a scruple or a second thought spoil the games they are playing with manic intensity. They are all fast-talking con-artists, scammers and grifters sporting flashy clothes and colorful language.
Ira Rosenfeld (an unrecognizable Christian Bale), a complete sleaze ball hooks up with Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) a sexy redhead who falls for his dubious charms and in whom he finds a worthy partner in crime as she easily morphs into an elegant English woman named Edith Greensly and a perfect foil for his smarminess. They plot elaborate schemes to defraud the unsuspecting out of their hard-earned cash. This unsavory pair are recruited, under pain of legal exposure, by an equally aggressive and manic FBI agent, Richie (Bradley Cooper) to participate in a government sting operation. Sydney is alternatively Ira’s possesive girlfriend and teasingly seducing Richie. Ira is cheating on Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) fairly unsubtley. Rosalyn is acting out in ways that are risking everyone’s cover.
The story is loosely based on the Abscam scandal in the 1970’s during Richard Nixon’s tainted tenure when the FBI in trying to implicate corrupt politicians used tactics like having fake Middle Eastern sheiks offer bribes to officials while being wired and filmed. The story rips along like a cat and mouse game as we watch the scammers scam each other. We are kept guessing who’s on first until the end. Its a high stakes, high wire act.
The attention to period details is pretty flawless. The hairdo’s in particular (mostly hair- dont’s) are spectacularly awful. Most notably, the elaborately coaxed, puffed, teased, and glued in place helmet which Ira Rosenfeld is torturing into being as the film opens. His wife, Rosalyn’s towering upswept multi-level beehive with downward dips and looping tendrils constantly threatens to deconstruct itself. The mayor of Camden New Jersey, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) has a fantastic Bobby Rydell pompadour.
The sound track includes seminal songs and musicians of the 70’s including Todd Rundgren, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Donna Summers, Harold Melville and the Bluenotes, Steely Dan Duke Ellington, Bee Gees, Carlos Santana among others and perfectly punctuates and enhances the action and the mood.
In spite of the caricature nature of these characters, they feel fully fleshed out. They actually are crazily believable. All of the actors turn in perfectly-crafted performances. The dialogue is brisk, clever and drolly funny. Their ways with words are unique to each of them and it is hard to get enough of it. I couldn’t have enjoyed it more.
Review by Belle McIntyre