Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

dir-scr David O Russell
prd Arnon Milchan, David O Russell, Christian Bale, Matthew Budman, Anthony Katagas
with Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Robert De Niro, Rami Malek, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldana, Andrea Riseborough, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alessandro Nivola, Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Timothy Olyphant, Chris Rock, Beth Grant, Taylor Swift
release US/UK 7.Oct.22
22/US 20th Century 2h14

deniro malek taylorjoy

Is it streaming?

bale, robbie and washington
Based on the 1933 Business Plot, this film takes a freewheeling caper-style approach that mixes slapstick action and screwball romance into a mystery that has vivid parallels today. Writer-director David O Russell keeps the tone light while punching bigger themes, so it feels somewhat uneven as the details begin to emerge. But the friendships at the centre are beautifully played, and the twisty narrative is both pointed and entertaining.
In New York, doctor Burt (Bale) specialises in helping his fellow scarred war veterans, but the high-status family of his wife Beatrice (Riseborough) disapproves of his Black best friend Hal (Washington). During the war, Burt and Hal made a pact to watch out for each other, then brought vivacious nurse Valerie (Robbie) into their circle for a hedonistic interlude in Amsterdam. Years later, Hal and Burt become entangled in a plot by big-business fascists to take control of the government with the help of General Dillenback (De Niro), who isn't as hapless as he seems.
An extended flashback to 1918 Europe beautifully establishes the free-spirited bond between Burt, Hal and Valerie, which sharply feeds into the events of 1933. Everything links to the rise of right-wing extremism in 1930s Italy and Germany, which also connects Valerie's super-rich family, run by her pompous brother Tom (Malek) and his enthusiastic wife Libby (Taylor-Joy). Meanwhile, two detectives (Schoenaerts and Nivola) are on the case, a vicious hitman (Olyphant) is on the hunt, and two spies (Shannon and Myers) seem to be lurking everywhere.

Matching the film's colourful ambience, performances are larger-than-life, anchored adeptly around Bale, who gives Burt remarkable soulfulness beneath his bumbling bluster. His loyalty to his friends is bracingly honest, and Washington brings a jolt of humane intelligence to the chaos as the lawyer Hal. His chemistry with Robbie's artistically alert Valerie is lovely. Side roles offer plenty of scene-stealing opportunities, with De Niro beautifully stepping up in the second half, complete with a properly powerful speech.

Russell's script knowingly weaves contemporary racism into the fabric of the dialog, an idea that expands more obviously in how Hal and Valerie understand they can never be a couple in their home country. The broad approach finds some bite in how the press and public never took this threat seriously, dismissing it as a "cocktail putsch". But evidence later proved otherwise, and the idea that the world's wealthiest people might prop up governments and then pit them against each other for profit no longer feels absurd.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 4.Oct.22

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall