David O. Russell’s latest is a fictionalized take on a true 1970s incident when the FBI worked with conmen to entrap politicians to take bribes from a fake Sheik. The movie opens in the thick of it, right before a big attempted sting, with a long, quiet, unbroken take of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) gluing on his toupee and carefully combing his remnants of real hair over it. It’s pretty representative of the movie: silly almost to the point of Will Ferrell cartoonishness, but you have to stare at it and contemplate it long enough that it’s on the verge of becoming more sad than funny.
Who does this guy think he’s fooling? Why is he so vain? Won’t somebody tell him how terrible he looks? So when FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) angrily grabs the toupee and makes it stick straight up, and Irving just stands there angrily, I already feel for him. It’s a funny sight gag, but also it says something about human vulnerability. We can be so hung up on a phony image that we fool ourselves. (read the rest of this shit…)