This was our first film of the new year and one of the strangest films you are likely to see all year. It is only partly based on real events. Just before the film starts you get a message on the screen which says Some of the things in the film did happen. But unless you were alive in Maryland in the 1970s you will like me have no idea which bits are true and which bits are pure fiction. Though the film is based on criminal activities and involves the FBI and some gangsters, apart from a couple of brief instances there is no real tension to be felt throughout the film. It cannot even claim the cachet of a Black Comedy as there is little blackness around and nothing of a hard edged core. It is a comedy of sorts, though it probably aspires to be much more. Despite all the above it is an enjoyable film.
As it is based, however loosely, on real events, there is a clear narrative structure to the tale. The use of flashbacks to keep us abreast of what has just happened adds a bit of variety and keeps the surprise factor alive. We also get not just one, but a couple of voice-overs to keep the narrative going and to enlighten us on the characters behind the voices. The basic story is simple enough – a couple of con artists, Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, are caught by the FBI and pressured into working a sting to expose the links between the state governor and the mafia, all around opening up a new casino in Atlantic City. Most of the film is about the planning and carrying out of this sting. However all along you are never quite sure who is conning who. Don’t worry, all is revealed in the end.
What really carries the film is the cast and the filming. As befits a tale about the mix between politicians and the world of casino gambling, there is a fair amount of dazzling glamour to be seen. Some gorgeous and some not so gorgeous period costumes and some really weird hair styles greatly add to the enjoyment. The main characters are all exceptionally well portrayed. An unrecognizable Christian Bale plays the portly and overweight Irving Rosenfeld. His hair set up is almost a work of art in itself. Irving is portrayed as a bit of a charmer who has become a successful conman. In this he has been ably assisted by his partner and lover, Sydney Prosser. Wonderfully and seductively played by Amy Adams, Sydney is the added bait to lure suckers into parting with their cash. That Sydney appears most of the time (barely) wearing some of the most revealing dresses to be seen in legal cinema, may have something to do with her success in this department. However Sydney is no dumb blonde, but more than capable of holding her own with any conman anytime. The dumb blonde part goes to Jennifer Lawrence who plays Irving’s stay at home wife, Rosalyn. This is probably the most stereotyped character in the film. Though Lawrence does herself proud and her future prospects no harm in her slightly over the top performance of the unpredictable time bomb in the tale. The most over the top performance however goes to Bradley Cooper as Richie DiMaso, the FBI agent who comes up with the idea for the sting. He is supposedly the brains behind the plan, but one is never sure just how much in control of things he really is. He complicates matters by falling head over heels for the lovely Sydney, which perhaps explains why he tends to indulge in a few seriously over the top outbursts of rage. Unrequited sex tends to do this to some men. (So I have been told)
All in all a very good film with some great performances. It is however overlong. At more than two and a quarter hours, this is stretching the audience’s patience to the limits. At half an hour less, it would be more entertaining film.