CONTAINS SPOILER OF THE BEST PLOT TWIST; I RECOMMEND AGAINST READING THIS IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FILM
More about this movie later; for now, let’s focus on the thing that really elevates the film: the amazing, pitch perfect cast. It’s headed by Christian Bale and if you look at the physical transformation he went through as some kind of gimmick and dismiss the performance as nothing more than that, you’re missing yet another brilliant performance in a career that has, at this point, solidified Bale as one of the great actors of all time, a figure worthy of mention next to the legends of yesteryear, an actor that’ll stand the test of time. He embodies conman Irving through a roller coaster ride of emotions, from exuberance of new love to sad resignation to the loss of love and self-respect to the absolute terror of finding himself in over his head to genuine regret at those he hurts in his dishonesty. Amy Adams is a sexy wonder as partner in crime Sydney; I’ve seen her give wonderful performances in the past, but I’ve never found her that sexually appealing, but she changes that in spades with this compelling, attractive performance. And her emotional range is almost as broad as Bale’s. This performance is just the thing to cleanse the palate after her frankly dreadful performance in the terrible Man of Steel. Bradley Cooper is blissfully funny; two aborted sex scenes with Adams are the comedic highlights of the film. His preening FBI agent is probably second in his oeuvre to his wonderful turn in The Place Beyond the Pines. The fact that he gave both his best and second best performances in the space of a single year spells wonderful things; could this good-looking heartthrob be about to cross over into brilliant character actor, ala Brad Pitt, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, etc? Let’s hope so. Jeremy Renner probably has the hardest role in the film; he’s tasked with playing a genuinely good person and nothing is harder to play than an unironic idealist, particularly when the character is a politician. But Renner makes you believe in Carmine and, just as Irving does, feel more empathy with him than we expected to. He isn’t corny or cheesy at all and that’s an incredible achievement; he makes you believe that his corruption is genuinely something he finds distasteful but necessary to achieve his true ends: the best for the people that elected him. Jennifer Lawrence? Goddess status continues to be confirmed. Her supporting turn as Irving’s abrasive, unfaithful, emotionally (not to say physically) abusive wife is hilariously funny and constantly compelling. She claims that Irving will never be able to leave her because of her astonishing sex appeal; it’s totally believable – she’s sexy on the level of “force of nature.” Sexy is frankly hard to do in movies, I find. Women in film are trotted out as sexual objects, a retrograde attitude that turns me off, or else given full respect as fleshed out, troubled characters, which is wonderful and lovely, but often they’re too complicated to really be sexy. But Adams and Lawrence are rarities; fully fleshed out women with real issues and real complicated emotional lives that manage to be incredibly sexy on the level of past screen goddesses like Audrey Hepburn, Bergman and Lamarr. But I can’t slow down; the cast isn’t done yet. I had no idea that Louis C.K. was in the film going in and he was a delightful surprise; his role doesn’t call for a lot of emotional shading, but he’s funny and believable as a frustrated, working class FBI guy trying to hold Cooper’s character in check; after his turn in Blue Jasmine and now this, I’m hoping he keeps doing movie roles. And I’ll throw out Michael Pena and Alessandro Nivola as an undercover FBI agent that doesn’t quite get it and a slimy careerist FBI administrator as being really perfect. Last but not least, there’s an uncredited cameo that I hate to spoil: Robert De Niro as the mob guy from Miami; he’s in the film for something less than ten minutes, but it’s his best performance in years. Playing a gangster doesn’t seem like a stretch and I guess it isn’t, but he’s able to, with a minimum of screen time and a minimal performance, imbue Tellegio with an incredible sense of menace, which is just what’s needed to send Irving over the deep end into pure terror. He’s genuinely scary even as he’s restrained and communicating mainly with long, quiet looks; it’s a perfect performance – please, Bobby, give us more this good. And that’s really enough. I went nine deep on this one – what a cast.
Next time, we’ll jump way back to an older movie I saw in 2013. It got on my Best Directors list too.