AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013) – Paul Laight’s Film Review

AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013) – Film Review

I was looking forward to seeing American Hustle for a number of reasons:

1)  The brilliant ensemble cast featuring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Louis C.K. etc. excited me greatly.

2) I love David O. Russell’s film-works such as Flirting With Disaster (1996), The Fighter (2010), Three Kings (1999) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012). I even liked I Heart Huckabees (2004), I think.

3) I love ‘con’ movies; the twisty-turny-step-sister of the crime thriller genre.  My favourites include:  The Sting (1973), Matchstick Men (2003), House Of Games (1987), The Grifters (1990) and my all-time favoritest the Argentinian con-film Nine Queens (2000).

So in short I really really wanted to enjoy American Hustle and must say I did greatly.

The plot in a nutshell finds 1970s confidence-tricksters Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Adams) ripping off small businessmen behaving like a High Street Bank for lowlifes.  Their behaviour mirrors the sub-prime market of the Noughties; robbing the skint to fund an extravagant and hedonsitic lifestyle.  In short they are scum; in Prosser/Adam’s case very sexy scum.

Eventually, like the greedy-bastard banks Rosenfeld and Prosser go bust when they are nicked by Bradley Cooper’s hyper-permed-FBI agent, Richie DiMaso.  In order to avoid jail they agree to become ‘bait’ to help capture some bigger fish including Jeremy Renner’s family and community driven politician, Mayor Carmine Polito. That’s where the fun really begins as all manner of cons, sleight-of-hand, bribes, palm-offs, seductions, stake-raising twists and turns begin as each character tries to outwit the other with crazy scheme piled upon crazy scheme.

The film opens with a hilarious set-piece as Christian Bale’s Rosenfeld goes to work by applying his rather extravagant stunt-hair. In fact, the wig work in this film is a joy and while it’s cheap and easy pickings at the expense of stupid 70s hair and clothes I loved it. Bale is very theatrical in this movie and I would describe his performance as a masterclass in over-the-top restraint.  The application of the wig and display of his paunch are his equivalent of Laurence Olivier’s hunchy Richard III:  “An Oscar! Oscar! My dignity and six-pack for an Oscar!”

Indeed, like O. Russell’s other movies this is a real actor-fest.  He just winds them up and lets them go in one entertaining scene after another.  Amy Adams is a real vulnerable-hot-like-fire-cold-bitch while Jennifer Lawrence steals the show with her ditzy-loose-cannon-flick-hair-nut-job portrayal of Rosenfeld’s wife.  Bradley Cooper follows up his great work in Silver Linings Playbook with a fine comic turn as the delusional and over-ambitious DiMaso.  While the most naturalistic and believable character and in turn empathetic portrayal is Renner’s politician. There’s some great support too especially from Louis C.K and Jack Huston.

One would probably argue that this is more of a comedy than a drama as the film retains a sense of fun throughout with some great physical performances and a sparkling script littered with zinging one-liners.  But there is some meaty drama and a serious subtext to the movie, and like O. Russell’s Three Kings which mixed humour with war, American Hustle has a message. Admittedly it is quite well hidden amongst the wigs and funny accents but that message is America is built on the con and that while everyone is trying to out-do each other perhaps they should just work together.   The law, the gangsters, the politicians and the business folk of the United States are all on the take and the American dream is simply a pyramid scheme built on sand.  That’s what I got from it anyway.

David O. Russell takes genre movies and applies a wonderful sense of chaos to the order allowing his actors free reign to express themselves.  His films are like watching Barcelona play football inasmuch as you’re really enjoying the pretty patterns being made by the players and then bang – the ball’s in the net! This is indeed Champions League movie-making with O. Russell’s wonderful style of direction giving all the cast their moment in the sun to shine with wonderful over-the-top characterisations, wigs, costumes and performances.

American Hustle is an entertaining movie which had the audience I watched it with laughing throughout. It works best as a crime-comedy with a bit of suspense; as well as being a mildly damning indictment the American dream. Ultimately, this film shoots, hits the mark and scores!

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