In theaters Friday, December 13
3.5 stars (out of 4)
Once again, the winner is...Jennifer Lawrence.
In a dazzling movie about the art of the con, the actress —- playing a feisty and frustrated New York housewife —- manages to steal all her scenes. And that's no small feat, given the powerhouse lineup in this latest offering from director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook).
The opening disclaimer —- which reads, "Some of this really happened" -- sets the tongue-in-cheek tone about the FBI investigation that took down a slew of politicians in the late '70s and early '80s. Here, the bedlam starts with oily scam artist Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale, who packed on 50 pounds to get that sizable gut). He's smugly self-satisfied on his dry cleaning businesses and fake art dealership when he meets slinky Sydney (Amy Adams). She cooks up a posh British accent and a new name, and the two set up an elaborate, phony-baloney loan business.
While they celebrate their success in bed, Irving's wife Rosalyn (Lawrence) taps her well-manicured nails at home in the Long Island suburbs with their son. But complications don't mean a thing as long as they all have the green. That is, until Irving and Sydney get busted by an undercover agent (Bradley Cooper). To avoid jail, they're persuaded by the hotheaded fed to reel in an amiable New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner) in over his head in a corrupt gambling scheme.
Even with the meaty narrative, style trumps substance. And frankly, after a fall season dominated by harrowing survival stories, it's a welcome relief to see actors in their prime be outrageous and let their hair down. So to speak, anyway: In this case, the men go to amusing lengths to primp their coifs. (Bale meticulously covers bald-spot with a comb-over; Cooper sits at home with his mother with his hair in tiny pink curlers). Adams, meanwhile, stuns in a series of sexy low-cut dresses that also serve as an advertisement for double-stick tape. In fact, when the principals meet at a nightclub to set up a sting, the rapid-fire dialogue is secondary to Adams' plunging neckline and Lawrence's va-va-voom number and brassy updo. And it's an essential scene!
Yes, Lawrence. She and her Silver Linings love Cooper share scant quality screen time together, but the young actress proves she doesn't need a male costar to guide her. Her big moments come in a flash, most memorably when, after tattling on her husband, she belts out "Live and Let Die" in her house. Wearing yellow dish gloves. At age 23, she has the gravitas and charm to seduce Bale in the bedroom, Adams in a bathroom and, just for good measure, a mobster in a car. Hope she's clearing her mantel for more trophies. She might as well get those press-on nails gold-plated, too.