Loosely based on the FBI ABSCAM sting operation, this 2013 film was written by David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer and directed by Russell of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook fame. Bringing along Christian Bale and Amy Adams from The Fighter and Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from Silver Linings Playbook, he has created a brilliant sting comedy that takes place at the height of disco mania, 1978. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including all four major acting categories.
Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is a good man at heart. He has a home in New Jersey, a wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), and he has adopted her son, Danny, whom he loves. But Irving is a small time hustler and he makes his money off of people about to under financially. When he meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), herself a small time hustler, they fall in love and she joins in his financial fraud scheme, posing as Lady Edith Greensly, a wealthy Englishwoman with connections.
Their secret life goes very well until they are caught in an FBI sting, led by agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). Although technically they only have Sydney on the hook, Richie uses Irving’s love to get him to agree to a deal. If they help him make four busts, he’ll let them both go scott free. Thinking they’ll just be bringing down small time hustlers, Irving is all for doing the deal, but Sydney just wants to run away with him (she’s even willing to take his son Danny with them). She is certain that something stinks about the deal and that if they do it, they’ll have to have an ace in the hole, but Irving is insistent. Sydney tells him that if that’s what he wants to do, she’ll distance herself from him and get close to Richie instead.
Irving proposes using a friend of his posing as a sheik to sting some hustlers he knows, but Richie and the FBI have different ideas. They want to go after Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) of Camden who is looking for investors to help revitalize Atlantic City. Irving thinks the deal has now become too big for them and Richie’s boss Stoddard Thorsen (Louis C.K.) is also against it, but the FBI wants to do it. In setting it up, Irving becomes friends with Carmine. Seeing that he is also basically a good man, Irving tries to find a way to keep Carmine out of it, but things are beyond his control. When he brings Rosalyn to a dinner with Carmine and his wife, she sees a chance to improve her own lot.
Carmine brings this unlikely group of people to a casino to meet the Mafia, led by Victor Tellegio (Robert De Niro), right-hand man to Meyer Lansky. Richie is posing as the sheik’s interpreter, but it turns out that Victor actually speaks Arabic and the whole plan falls into jeopardy. This begins a hilarious series of plot twists and turns that lead to the conclusion of the movie.
Christian Bale turns in one of the best performances of this new century as Irving. He has crafted a character both deep and shallow, so well-layered in nuance that Bale himself completely disappears in the character. Typically, he carries the film. Adams, Lawrence, and Cooper are all very good, but pale beside the brilliance of this one truly great American actor.
The script is incredibly well-crafted and the direction is superb. Russell is emerging as one of America’s finest cinematic minds and he brings all of his talents to bear in this period comedy that never ceases to entertain. From beginning to end, the viewer is caught up in one bizarre scheme after another as the plot moves through unexpected twists and turns. As the story gets deeper and deeper, a kind of tension is created behind the comedy that impels the viewer to watch, rooting for Irving and also fearing for him at the same time.
The film is beautifully crafted and should be seen by everyone!