The first great film with a 2014 UK release goes to David Russell for his quirky follow up to last year’s Academy Award darling, Silver Linings Playbook. A sexy ‘70s heist film with a smooth and jazzy soundtrack that essentially updates the Oceans Eleven model for the more urbane 2013/14 audiences.
The film is basically a pair of love triangles between four characters: Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a small-time conman that hustles people with the promise of large loans that never materialize; Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), his new girlfriend that joins the scams by pretending to be a wealthy British royal; Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence), Irving’s wife and the mother of his child who likes to drink and be the centre of attention; and Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) an FBI agent who is trying to uncover corruption and is falling for Sydney (who he thinks is called Edith).
The backdrop of all of the romance is that Richie catches Irving and Sydney attempting to commit fraud so he forces them to help him in setting up a bribery bust with the mayor of New Jersey Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) and other politicians. The plan originally involves offering money for much needed infrastructure development and ends up involving casino mobs and mysterious Middle Eastern Sheiks that are trying to reap the benefits off gambling licenses.
The soundtrack (which already has a Spotify playlist dedicated to it – I highly recommend White Rabbit by Mayssa Karaa) acts as a mood stabiliser for a largely meandering plot. Some scenes are dramatic and focus on family issues, others are comedic and use slapstick, but throughout there is a suave soundtrack that holds it all together; that and the obvious ‘70s costumes and set design. This is no insult though – the characters are given space to breathe and fluctuate instead of staying to a linear and strict script. Jennifer Lawrence especially is given the opportunity to really expand in many scenes: from singing a rendition of Live and Let Die directly to camera, to screaming and crying and stealing every scene throughout. So far she is having the perfect decade.
The film as a whole is a wonderfully sensual experience with strong emphasis on its slick rebellious music and typically decadent 1970s yellow, white and brown visuals. But also there is a strong focus on smells and taste: Rosalyn keeps referring to the smell of her nail varnish as a sweetness with a hint of ‘garbage’ underneath, a metaphor for mafia high-class crime perhaps; and there are lots of shots of wines and champagnes that lovingly fill the screen. The very best 'sensual' scene though was the disco dance scene (with the obligatory Donna Summer song) that made me want to leave the cinema and find the nearest big room with a strobe light...
Another interesting thing to take away from the film is how sincere the main politician is. At no point does Polito seem disingenuous when he talks about the great people of his state, or the future that he is trying to help them build. I can’t remember a time in a recent film when politicians have been treated with such a positive shine. The typical cliché is to have politicians who are either a caricature of greed and evil or conceitedly dishonest. It was quite refreshing to see a human being in office who enjoys the perks of the job, yet still seems to honestly believe in the duties of his office.
Irving, the conman-with-a-conscious, spends the latter half of the film getting more uncomfortable with the bribery and entrapment aimed at the politicians and he himself begins to concoct a plan to save them from their own possible greed. So the film ends up being anti-police (FBI) yet pro-politician – a somewhat radical position for such a mainstream film.