This film is loosely based on an FBI sting operation in the 1970’s to expose corruption. The operation used con artists to help ensnare politicians with bribes by fake Arab sheiks. A story so surreal and outlandish it’s no surprise it’s partly true. At the start of the film the words “Some of this actually happened” appear on the screen and this keeps you wondering during the movie, did this part actually happen?
The con artists are Irving played by Christian Bale and his mistress Sydney played by Amy Adams. Although Irving and Sydney are engaged in duplicity and double-dealings, they are charming and ambitious. You can’t help wishing them to succeed in their scams. Yet the law finally catches up with the duo, in the form of Agent DiMaso played by Bradley Cooper. Irving refuses to flee the country and leave his wife and son behind so they are forced to pay a price.
Agent DiMaso is an FBI agent and he arrests Irving and Sydney and forces them to become part of his FBI sting operation. DiMaso is a loose canon within the FBI, with morals more questionable than the corrupt politicians that he plans to entrap. His outlandish behavior and bluster provide a plethora of comic moments. With an insatiable desire for glory he lands himself and the others out of their depth in the criminal underworld.
Many of the characters create illusions. They use disguises, lies and subterfuge to re-create themselves. “This is real” is a mantra repeated by several characters, often when the very opposite is the case. What is most real is the love between Irving and Sydney. However as part of her pretense Sydney feigns love for the Agent DiMaso. Irving becomes jealous and doubtful and their relationship disintegrates. Despite Irving’s own constant talk of re-invention, he changes very little aside from upgrading to a more dapper suit of clothes.
The director David O. Russell remarked that in making this film the personalities were more important to him than the plot. The film has a host of personalities who are comical and dazzling. The A-lister line-up is impressive and incudes Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert de Niro. Many of these stars have featured in Russell’s previous films (The Fighter and The Silver Linings Playbook). You’d imagine a film couldn’t possibly suffer from having too many stars? Yet with so much talent competing for finite screen time, the personalities finish up a little thinly spread and lacking in depth. As intimated by Russell himself the story line is secondary to characterization and can be fragmented and disjointed in parts.
Visually the movie is a spectacle of 70’s glamour. Sequined dresses, enormous gold jewelry, huge tie knots, bright polyester suits and dark over sized glasses. Great fun was surely had by the costume designers in putting together the fashion and hairstyles. Irving’s comb-over hairdo is deserving of a special mention and features in several scenes, almost a character in itself. The hedonistic parties and dancing scenes unfurl to the backing track of seventies music by the Bee Gees, Led Zepplin, Duke Ellington and Paul McCartney.
This is a very enjoyable film; funny, wild and absorbing. It has plenty of style but whether if it has enough substance to endure only time will tell.