Russell continues his hot run after The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook with this sharp, vigorous and thoroughly enjoyable late '70s caper, again drawing top notch work from his players. Not least pot-bellied Bale as Irving Rosenfeld, the balding, seedy con man at the centre of this labyrinthine tale. This is a performer who really immerses himself in the role – he's virtually unrecognisable as he weaves his way through a complicated scam to take down various politicos and mobsters in New Jersey. He sports tasteless 1978 fashions and imbues the character with just the right shading as he sees his life lose control by the forces overtaking him.
Gorgeous Adams is his partner in crime Sydney, the beautiful girl he initially believes is out of his league but falls for his unkempt charms – proving more than a match for him. Adams is excellent at portraying the trashy flightiness of this confused individual, especially as she's attracted to the FBI agent (Cooper) who forces them into conducting the operation to nail the moneymen. Cooper is mightily impressive as he gets ideas above his station, abusing his boss (Louis CK) and succumbing to illegal substances.
There is a freshness and vitality to these broad performances that is beguiling. They go for the high notes, instilling their roles with high energy wit and heart. They're an absolute joy to watch, as is the wonderful Lawrence as Rosenfeld's temperamental wife with a low tolerance for alcohol. She comes into her own in the second half, upsetting the apple cart with her lack of knowledge about the clandestine operation. She paints the role in bold, funny strokes, a marvellously vivid portrayal of an unhappy woman seeking attention. Lawrence is a remarkably gifted actress and almost walks away with the movie, but it's too much of an ensemble piece for a winner to be declared. Renner is also very fine as the good-hearted New Jersey mayor conducting illegal practices with the best of intentions, the first victim of the scheme. They all deserve one big Oscar.
There is a plentiful supply of '70s hits on the soundtrack, but these are used most judiciously to highlight the tensions, emotions and ructions the protagonists undergo. Director Russell is on cracking form here, infusing the tale with a cheeky exuberance that is wholly persuasive. The scene where De Niro cameos, questioning a supposed sheikh, is electric and the whole enterprise is rounded off with a sting set-up that indeed satisfyingly reminds one slightly of the 1973 Sting.
One minor quibble is the movie's length. Need it be that long? Then again, there is much to juggle but Russell deftly does it, delivering a vibrant, energetically entertaining escapade that is well worth your time.
EXTRAS ★★ Just a making-of featurette (16:37); and 11 deleted scenes.