Directed by: David Russell (who also did The Fighter, dispiriting flick about one of Nature’s lesser creatures who manages at length—great length—to stand on his hind legs and beard his tormentors; then Silver Linings Playbook, dispiriting flick about one of Nature’s lesser creatures who manages at length—great length—to stand on his hind legs and beard his tormentors… annnnnnnnd evidently co-written by him, the which make him, in the French, a co-auteur not to say co-hauteur… urf! urf!). Starring: Whoa! The lot…Christian Bale (who’s made a fetish of dropping weight till he’s positively cadaverous, then regaining, then dropping, then morphing back up to beer-bellitude, then… Hey! Worked for Tom Hanks). Anyhow; Bradley Cooper, making some weird choices of script lately and this won’t end well for him, mark my words; Jeremy Renner, ditto and who’d better get back to action flicks right quick; Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence in dueling décolletés as lovely but unlovable fee-males; Michael Pena, a Peruvian I think, as an Ay-rab; Louis C.K. (no, I don’t know why he does that) fresh from comic relief as comic relief (You think he was gonna play Hamlet?).
Dispiriting flick about one of Nature’s lesser creatures who manages at length—great length—to stand on his hind legs and beard his tormentors, which is not to say this director (co-auteur) has only a single note to sound though he does seem to dispose of a single instrument. Seem to me here that we have the Madame Bovary question writ Cineplex large: Do twelve pages of arsenic poisoning (Oh, man… sorry to ruin it for you. Well, at least I didn’t reveal who dies of arsenic poisoning, so there’s a little suspense left. Anyhow, you woulda guessed from the title. Oh, man… did it again. Okay, try Anna Karenina. You’ll never guess who throws herself under a train in that one.) wash away 384 pages of fornication, self-delusion, fornication, self-indulgence, fornication? Does a two-minute coda of virtue triumphant blot out 105 minutes of syrupy wallow in vice, duplicity, mendacity, venality, ennu-y? Does permitting these denizens of the demi-monde a flash of attenuated accomplishment compensate the hour(s) of humiliation, frustration, bondage to which they’re subjected and we treated? Low mimetic mode… yeah, low all right… low enough to crawl under a snake with an eighty-pound rucksack on (Okay, okay… silly image. Why’d a snake have an eighty-pound rucksack on?).
We lovingly reconstruct the 70’s (why?), double-knit, bell-bottomed, platform-shod, over-combed, and apparently décolletée down to here, automobiles and morality evidently endemic to that epoch of self-absorption and self-servitude. Our Everyman is Irving Rosenfeld (they’re all ethnics save for the women who are both trailer-trash, so our bona fides as salt of the earth gets cinched early on), played by Bale with a generic accent of some kind, perhaps Jewish by way of New Jersey by way of Quint from Jaws and what the hell was that? Rosenfeld combs his remaining hair over a balding pate, glues on a rug, styles it with that spray stuff, running gag we’re dosed with several times in case you missed it, you dummy, testimony to his essential falsity. He engages in small-time grifting, based out of a more or less legit dry cleaning business. He’s teamed up with fallen flower Sydney (Amy Adams), who’s fetched up with an alter-ego, Lady Jane—or something—and an alter accent allegedly British; he’s married to shrill Mensa-reject Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence recycling Renée Zellweger from Cinderella Man). The tarnished threesome cohabit in uneasy symbiosis, grifting and drifting till…
Uh oh! Caught in a small-scale sting by ambitious (and spit-curled) FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper, wasted here), the Rosenfelds are dragooned into serving as federal stooges to teach DiMaso how to score big game… like senators and rich guys and stuff. So it goes. Exploiting DiMaso’s resources and Rosenfeld’s expertise, they stake out the Huey Long of Newark, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner, with a pompadour size of Dee-Moines testifying to his seventies cred on account of in this kind of cinee-mah, if you can’t see it, it ain’t). Onliest hitch, Polito appears to be a nice guy, family man, devoted to the citizens of Newark. His interest in snagging money is mostly to improve the lives of his charges, it being understood that anything “improved” in New Jersey requires grease with which to lube the only-too-squeaky wheels of unions, political machines, bureaucracies, the lot. So there you go: The good guy (FBI agent) is bad or at least corruptible; the graftable pigeon (Mayor of Newark) is decent or at least well-intented; the operators are morally flaccid, louche (a lot like flaccid, except, you know… classy because French), malleable (a lot like louche, except multisyllable). A world turnt upside down. Wup… I feel a lesson coming here.
I didn’t care for the seventies. Like them even less in re-run. Didn’t find anyone or anything admirable in that ugly, best-forgotten decade (Yeah, yeah… likely envy since I’d just blown four years in Pharaoh’s Army only to come back and see my coevals flourishing and no place for me at the table, but hey… I couldn’t be that small), not the fashions, religiously recreated here, not even the cars, duly cruising up and down street behind the action (same car several times, by the bye; check it out) as if to anchor it in space-time, except for the muscle-cars (FBI agents, décolletée fee-males, Ay-rab sheiks, and Jewish grifters don’t subscribe, so you have to catch The Dukes of Hazzard, Starsky & Hutch, Gran Torino for that). This whole business allegedly driven by the legend of Abscam, a sting perpetrated by the FBI and that snagged a batch of high rollers and prominent pols in public scandal though I think I remember that most of them walked in the end: FBI taking on the Legislature kinda like two bugs umph umphing. Lot of critical bleating about this movie, Oscar ™ nods and on and on. I fear you’ll find it tedious and unrewarding (like The Fighter and Silver Linings) as I fear still more that the bleating will encourage this guy to direct yet another in the same vein (varicose, to be exact… yours).