While something like Rush played down the 70s hair and fashion a little and had a digital sheen about it, David O. Russel's latest is a period caper which goes full on with the hair pieces and shirts, and has a cigarette stained, desaturated look to the visuals. In a story about scams, loan sharks and political corruption, it's fitting that style, and also dressing up is at the forefront. In an opening scene we see Christian Bale's Irving slowly put together a complex toupee and it's this meticulous approach which continues throughout the movie. The level of pure swagger and attitude makes the ridiculous mix of hairspray and eye watering shirt designs come together. In spite of all these pieces seeming laughable at first, once things get moving the film draws you in much like the victims of the government sting at it's centre. Are they putting the confidence in con man? It may be a ridiculous thing to say, but because of that perhaps it's a perfectly suitable opening line.
Beginning with a Goofellas-esque narration, the story starts with a fairly standard rags to riches approach as Irving goes through childhood antics, small business ownership and later into stolen art and loan cons. It's here he teams up with Sydney (Amy Adams) who has a similar story of a past she wants to escape. Through his business front and her shaky British accent they grow to become something more which leads them to fall into an FBI fraud investigation. It's here the bulk of the story spirals from as they are coerced into doing their work for the benefit of others. The most interesting part of all this is how the crime is approached without ever being black and white. These are not thinly drawn characters but people with a variety of issues - all of them are faking it or putting on a show. Even Bradley Cooper's federal agent isn't quite the big man he hopes to be, and as it progresses the veneer of their egos begins to crack. Irving begins to doubt his choices once he's in the bureau's pocket and befriends their target Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) a politician who seems genuinely interested in the greater good rather than the corrupt bribe taker that was expected. This mix of torment and conflicting loyalties is where the best elements of the film come together as Irving balances more than one plan against domestic issues with his reclusive yet unpredictable wife (Jennifer Lawrence). But whether the pieces hold together strongly during the lengthy 138 minute running time is another question.
The story does feel it's length despite all of the parts being played by some great talent. Detractors have noted that the over improvised style of the performances is a little grating, and while some scenes could have been more tightly constructed I found the naturalistic dialogue to be a strength. The same cannot be said of the scheme underpinning this material though, and as things spiral out of control and the targets grow in size I didn't feel that this side of the story has as cohesive as it could have been. That being said this is still a fun and entertaining drama with some great moments. The blend of sweeping camera work and period music is done very well, and there are even some genuinely tense moments as the plan attracts some bigger fish than perhaps anyone was expecting. Under further scrutiny it may not all tie together perfectly, but it's enjoyable to see them try.
THE LEGO MOVIE (2014)
In a surprising move, the film all about children's building blocks isn't a big money grab and offers a layer of biting satire on top of the eye-popping, multicoloured adventure. I am disappointed that there isn't more to the story though, and while it's great to see fun being poked at people with no imagination and those in favour of homogenised corporate brands, there isn't much else going on here. The big threat is something which is the opposite of creativity, and that's great - but they ride this single joke for far too long and reveal it way too early. It has to be said that this is entertaining and I appreciate how good it looks (the detail and realistic look of the plastic is very impressive) but I'd have liked stronger sense of humour beyond the obvious. It's hard to be cynical with this kind of message but I'd prefer if it was a little less simplistic.