Silver Linings Playbook (15)

Gambit (12A)

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Reviewed by Demetrios Matheou

With the exception of his war zone drama Three Kings, David O Russell's films invariably centre on family life, and dysfunctional family life at that. From Flirting With Disaster to The Fighter, and now Silver Linings Playbook, Russell is a master of a barely controlled hysteria that so many families would recognise as their own.

Based on the novel by Matthew Quick, this gives an added context to the fraught emotions in that its central character, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), suffers from bipolar disorder, accompanied by an aversion to taking his meds. Throw in an OCD father (Robert De Niro) and a potential lover with emotional issues of her own (Jennifer Lawrence) and we have the makings, as Pat puts it, for some great "explosions".

Pat's mother Delores (Jackie Weaver) has had her son discharged from a mental institution, where he found himself after almost beating his wife's lover to death. Returned into his family's home in the Philadelphia suburbs, Pat has to rebuild his life and start to cope with his newly diagnosed disorder. He's determined to be optimistic, to see the silver lining in every situation; but his self-delusion over the state of his marriage (the key ought to be in the restraining order) suggests that he has a long way to go.

The story works a sly trick on the viewer. It starts, starkly and boldly, as a study of mental illness, as we watch Pat struggle with his wayward emotions, at once touchingly vulnerable and quite unbearable, not helped by his father's own peculiar obsessions and friends who mean well but have problems of their own. But it then slowly segues into a romantic comedy, a tad more conventional, which smoothes some of the earlier edges and whose glorious climax feels like a reward, to us, for weathering the stormier moments.

Lawrence's Tiffany is the bridge between these two narrative strands, still in a dark place after the accidental death of her husband, yet clearly attracted to Pat. She's actually the most dynamic character in the story, an outsider to the Solitano clan who has to work the hardest for acceptance; the scene in which she confronts a room full of sceptics and knocks it out of the park is a joy.

The acting is top notch, with the cast clearly responding to Russell's modus operandi of improvised, slightly chaotic filming. This is a very, very shouty film, even more so than the hilariously rancorous The Fighter. At times the criss-crossing dialogue is reminiscent of Robert Altman's work, the style adding authenticity to the confused emotions at play. Funny, eccentric and real as Pat Snr, De Niro hasn't been this good in years. Alongside the old master, the leads score massively for the new generation.

Gambit is a woeful remake of the 1966 caper movie that was the young Michael Caine's stylish introduction to Hollywood. It's telling that the new film feels more dated than the one that is almost half a century old.

Colin Firth stars as an art expert who plans to steal a Monet from a wealthy businessman (Alan Rickman), with the assistance of a Texas rodeo queen (Cameron Diaz). The thief has a cunning plan, hampered by lame execution – which is what we could also say of director Michael Hoffman and, shockingly, the Coen brothers, who wrote the script. Firth spends too much time climbing walls without his trousers, Rickman without any clothes at all, while in a story about fakes Diaz seems the most fake of all.