Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA, 2013. Columbia Pictures, Annapurna Pictures, Atlas Entertainment. Screenplay by Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell. Cinematography by Linus Sandgren. Produced by Megan Ellison, Jonathan Gordon, Charles Roven, Richard Suckle. Music by Danny Elfman. Production Design by Judy Becker. Costume Design by Michael Wilkinson. Film Editing by Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers. Academy Awards 2013. American Film Institute 2013. Golden Globe Awards 2013. New York Film Critics 2013. Washington Film Critics Awards 2013.
The Abscam affair of the late seventies is reenacted in this middling comedy, one with a few laughs and some enjoyable caricatures to punctuate a slow pace and uneven direction. Christian Bale is a career con artist who stows young wife Jennifer Lawrence at home while parading around town with his partner in crime Amy Adams. When the two get busted by federal officer Bradley Cooper, they agree to help him bring down crooked politicians in return for leniency, and so agree to wear wires and drag congressmen and a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner) with grand ambitions into a complicated scheme involving payoffs for economy-boosting casinos. It’s admirable that director David O. Russell avoids the kind of slick moves that glossier films like Oceans Eleven trade off on, and it presents the seventies with a minimal level of Boogie Nights kitsch, but there also isn’t much to make up for the lack of narrative pizzazz. The performances are all terrific, but a group of actors prepared to bust out are bridled in by a story that always feels like it’s still at the beginning of a great caper. Cooper is the standout of the bunch, hilariously energetic and unself-consciously foolish as the straight arrow trying to go crooked in an effort to be a cool dude, while Robert De Niro shows them all how it’s down in a terrific unbilled cameo.