American Hustle – Heavy on style, light on the con

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MOVIE REVIEW

American Hustle
Atlas Entertainment, Annapurna Pictures, US
138 Min
2.35:1
Release UK: 1st January 2014.

DIR David O. Russell
EXEC Matthew Budman, Bradley Cooper, Eric Signer
PROD Megan Ellison, Jonathan Gordon, Charles Roven, Richard Suckle
SCR David O. Russell, Eric Singer
DP Linus Sandgren
CAST Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro

Voice-over narration, montage, slick slo-mo, urgent zooms, sweeping cameras, a milieu of ostentatiously dressed mobsters and key underscoring pop songs: all of these are recognizable Scorsesian features (notably Goodfellas and Casino) at play in David O. Russell’s American Hustle. Russell uses these features to show off a brand of insanity at play in the con arrangements of the 1970s. However, it all seems a tad misplaced, in most part the narrative is messy and the characters slightly over-the-top. On occasion, I found my eyes drifting off-screen to look at the clock: the film is a little long for its rendezvous, but in some areas it is fascinating and utterly gripping.

David O. Russell loves to explore characters with tendencies to implode or explode at any given moment. Here, he serves up an A-list cast of what is becoming his lavish personal acting troupe. Christian Bale and Amy Adams come from 2011’s The Fighter and Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from last year’s Silver Lining’s Playbook. It’s undeniable; Russell is on top form and gets some incredibly skillful performances out of his actors. He pushes them to give fresh and unique performances, and such is the case with American Hustle.

We are reminded, in particular, just how fantastic and diverse Christian Bale is as an actor. This also applies psychically with Bale seemingly scoffing all the food he denied himself when shooting Brad Anderson’s The Machinist and Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn to put on a belly for his performance as Irving Rosenfield. Rosenfield has a serious swagger and a horrendous plastered hairpiece that by the end of the movie I actually quite fancied. His partner, Sydney (Amy Adams), is a woman with big dreams who takes on the role of a posh Londoner, Lady Edith, with elite banking connections. Their cons are revved up a gear and the couple starts to make big bucks and fall madly in love.

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However, there is a hitch in the relationship, Rosenfield is still married to the hotheaded Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who looks after their adopted son. Rosalyn is a complex character and Lawrence makes her fascinating to watch, she is the typical passive-aggressive married woman of a mobster/scammer: she is dangerous, vulnerable, needy, but very sexy.

Bradley Cooper plays the intense and slightly mad (they’re all mad) FBI agent who wants to make a big bust. He enlists the help of Rosenfield and Sydney by exposing one of their schemes and threatening to take them down under. Rosenfield certainly isn’t a happy man at this point. A highlight of this film for me is a scene in which Cooper messes up Rosenfield’s hair with one swoosh of the hand, Rosenfield’s reaction is simply hilarious and magnificently concentrated by Bale.

During their alliance, it is no surprise that Cooper finds himself head over heels for Sydney, which is played up by her flirting with Cooper. Her acts are slightly confusing though, we never really know who she is trying to con. This confusion was on the verge of making me frustrated, but I guess that’s just part of the fun with America Hustle.

What follows is a blast of barefaced schemes, ravenous greed and melodramatic characters running about in their groovy duds. Russell is playing with an elaborate set-up and letting us hang out with the coolest people in town. We explore their drive, pleasure and equal dissatisfaction. It is the sort of film you want to revisit because the characters are so mad and fun to watch, but also because you want to work out just what the hell is really going on.

But, this movie is hard not to love.

4/5 stars

Watch the trailer below:

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