Richard and “CP24 Breakfast” host Nick Dixon have a look at some special streaming opportunities and television shows to watch over the weekend including the Disney+ animated series “Marvel’s Hit Monkey,” the Amazon Prime series “The Afterparty” and the classic Robert Redford, Paul Newman movie “The Sting” on HBO.
Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) is a seasoned grifter from a long line of con men. His father and grandfather were flim flam artists and now he is passing along the tricks of the trade to Jess (Margot Robbie) a beautiful newcomer with a light touch—perfect for picking pockets—who just might get Nicky to break his golden rule of never getting emotionally involved with anyone.
When Spurgeon first spots Jess she is working a low level scam in a hotel bar. He teaches her how to use misdirection to pick pockets. “You get their focus,” he says, “and then you can take whatever you like.” Using a mixture of his methods and chutzpah they hit the rubes at the Superbowl in New Orleans, raking in over a million dollars in one week.
A nervy game of one-upmanship nets another big score, and Jess, thinking she is part of the team—both professionally and romantically—imagines a life of crime with Nicky until he unceremoniously dumps her, gifting her with $80,000 and a free ride to the airport.
Three years later Nicky is in Buenos Aires working a big job for billionaire Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro). To his surprise Jess is also there, but is she working an angle or has she gone straight?
One part Scorsese, one part Soderbergh, with a healthy dose of “The Sting” thrown in, “Focus” is a stylish crime drama more about the characters than the crime. Nicky’s maxims—“Die with the lie.”—set the scene, but the story is more about a commitment-phobe who loses himself over a woman. It works because of the chemistry between Smith and Robbie. They have great repartee, trade snappy dialogue and despite a gaping age difference, make a credible couple.
Smith hasn’t been this effortlessly charming in years and Robbie blends streetwise—“It’s a minor miracle I’m not a hooker right now,” she says.—with easy charm. The pair are a winning combo, reminiscent of the spark-plug chemistry between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in “Out of Sight.”
“Focus” could use a bit more focus in the storytelling—a late movie plot twist doesn’t ring true given the lead up to the big reveal—but it zips along at such a pace and is enough fun that you may not notice.
“American Hustle, ” the new film from “Silver Linings Playbook” director David O. Russell, bristles with energy.
Imagine the love child of “The Sting” and “Ocean’s Eleven” infused with the verve of the frenetic last thirty minutes of “Goodfellas” and you get the idea.
Branded with the disclaimer, “Some of this actually happened,” “American Hustle” is a fictionalized retelling of the Abscam scandal, an elaborate FBI takedown of corrupt government officials.
Christian Bale plays Irv Rosenfeld, a low level con man with a paunch and Trump-esque comb over. He makes a comfortable living, enough to support his wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), their son and his mistress and partner-in-crime Sydney (Amy Adams).
His life goes sideways when Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), an ambitious FBI agent, threatens them with arrest unless they help him run a complicated corruption investigation involving New Jersey mayor Carmen Polito (Jeremy Renner) and other high ranking officials.
There’s a zany tone to “American Hustle.” It plays like a heightened version of real life. Perhaps it is the outrageous 1970s styles—all big hair, wide collars and flared pants—or the edgy, slightly larger-than-life performances from the top-notch cast, but the film feels one step removed from reality. Settle into “American Hustle’s” world and the darkly humorous ride is an enjoyable journey.
Bale leads the cast, but it is very much an ensemble. As the dumpy Irving he is a mass of contradictions. He’s a confidence man with a conscience; a man who feels it’s wrong to entrap politicians so soon after the public cynicism about elected officials after Watergate and Vietnam. Trapped in a loveless marriage, he’s a philanderer who is reluctant to leave Rosalyn because he wants to do the right thing for his son. He genuinely likes Carmine even though he’s about to set him up to do some real jail time.
Bale brings some real complexity to a character who could easily have been a stunt. Some actors might have relied on the weight gain and the bad hair to do the work, but Bale brings him to life and even makes you feel sorry for him.
The standout, in a smaller role, is Lawrence. Realistically she may be too young for the part, but as “the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate,” she’s perfectly cast. With a thick Long Island and perfectly lacquered lips, she plays Rosalyn as a creature of pure emotion, passionate one second, needy the next, driven by jealousy and dysfunction and one too many self-help books.
Adams, Renner and Cooper also distinguish themselves playing preposterous characters with one thing in common—they aspire to be something they are not. Everyone on display is on the hustle, looking to reinvent themselves, and that desperation is what gives the movie its dynamism.
As a backdrop Russell hits all the right period notes, particularly with the music. He uses archival music from the likes of Elton John, Electric Light Orchestra and The Bee Gees to set the mood, but instead of acting as a greatest hits collection of the Me Decade through clever editing it sounds like a soundtrack.
“American Hustle” is one of the year’s best. It’s an entertainingly audacious movie that will doubtless be compared to “The Wolf of Wall Street” because of the similarity in tone and themes, but this time around David O. Russell has almost out-Scorsese’d Scorsese.
“You’re a con artist,” wrote Karina Halle in Sins & Needles. “A liar. A thief. An unredeemable soul.”
She might also have added to that colourful list really interesting movie character.
As despicable as flim flam artists may be, there is no denying they make good film subjects.
This weekend in American Hustle, Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a con man forced to help the FBI ensnare a group of corrupt politicians in the ABSCAM sting operation.
Although American Hustle director David O. Russell says his film is a fictionalized account of events, the ABSCAM operation was headline news in the early 1980s and Hollywood took notice.
In 1982 director Louis Malle was making plans for a May start date on an ABSCAM film called Moon Over Miami starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. Belushi was to play Melvin Weinberg, based on the same man as Bale’s character in American Hustle.
The movie was scuttled following Belushi’s death in March of that year.
That con man film never saw the light of day, but many others have.
Everyone knows The Sting and The Grifters, but lesser seen is David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner, a complicated story starring Campbell Scott as Joe Ross, a man who invents a process “to control the world market.” Concerned that he will not be properly compensated for his work he contacts Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin), a wealthy businessman who offers to help. Little does Ross know that he has just stepped into a world of deception that will change his life.
Steve Martin’s performance in The Spanish Prisoner was Oscar worthy, but it wasn’t the first time he played a confidence man on film.
In the comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels he starred opposite Michael Caine as a scruffy con man trying to muscle in on some high end business on the French Riviera. Caine’s suave grifter makes a bet with Martin. Whoever can con Soap Queen Janet Colgate (Glenne Headley) first will walk away with $50,000.
The movie was written for Mick Jagger and David Bowie who were looking to do a project together after the success of their Dancing in the Street video. The rock stars dropped out before cameras rolled — Bowie later said both were, “a bit tweezed that we lost out on a script that could have been reasonably good” — and replaced by Martin and Caine whose hilarious performances earned the movie a spot on Bravo’s 100 Funniest Movies list.