Cinema Review: American Hustle

Christian Bale;Jeremy Renner;Bradley Cooper

Dir: David O’Russell Wri: Eric Singer, David O. Russell Pro: Megan Ellison, Jonathan Gordon,Charles Roven, Richard Suckle  DOP: Linus Sandgren  ED: Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers DES: Judy Becker • MUS: Danny Elfman • CAST: Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper

American Hustle, David O Russell’s most entertaining film to date, joins cinema’s complement of classic con movies. It’s a tour de force that delivers on all levels.

Christian Bale and Amy Adams play two con artists who become embroiled in the attempts of FBI agent Bradley Cooper, in late 1970s post-Watergate America, to catch  bigger fish. A rollicking tale unfolds as Cooper sets his sights ever higher.

The pleasures are principally in the playing. Since Flirting with Disaster (1996), Russell has proved himself a master of ensemble movies. Here he brings together some of Hollywood’s hottest stars.

Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) won an Oscar in Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, and here, playing Bale’s wife, she somehow manages to steal the film from its glittering cast. She sizzles with sexiness and garners some of the film’s biggest laughs, while conveying a vulnerability and desperation that make her Rosalyn a most memorable character.

Bradley Cooper (The Hangover) takes on a less complex role than he had opposite Lawrence in Silver Linings, but is no less impressive for it. His fast-talking fed becomes increasingly obsessed with his elaborate project, and Cooper convinces.

Christian Bale lost much weight in his Oscar-winning turn in Russell’s The Fighter.  In American Hustle, his balding grifter sports a beer belly and ’70s beard and moustache. His comb-over provides the film’s opening gags, while his fastidious grooming prefigures his character’s attention to detail in the art of the con, in making people believe what they want to believe.

Amy Adams, also Oscar-nominated for The Fighter, holds her own against Bale and Cooper, as her character’s affections appear to move from one to the other. Her character’s journey proves the most emotionally complex as she constantly hides her true feelings. It’s the kind of role that Adams excels in.

David O Russell may rank as one of the leading talents working in contemporary American cinema. American Hustle boasts an attractive cast and, as a caper, it should draw bigger audiences than his more serious recent efforts, tackling mental illness in Silver Linings Playbook and drug addiction in The Fighter. His approach resembles that of Alexander Payne, more literate than cinematic, relying on excellent writing and brilliant performances.

American Hustle features cracking dialogue, an enjoyable plot and great acting, but Russell’s handling is highly derivative. The film’s structure, with its use of voiceover narration and flashbacks, resembles that of GoodFellas, and Russell’s camerawork and jump cutting are also Scorsesian. Robert DeNiro has an effective cameo as Victor Tellegio, a mafioso, and even Jeremy Renner channels Joe Pesci’s hairstyle from GoodFellas. Francis Ford Coppola said his father used to have a good slogan, “Steal from the best,” and Russell appears to be following such advice in adopting a style that’s not his own.

Still, American Hustle ranks as one of the great con movies. The introduction – “some of this actually happened” – recalls the opening of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969):  “Not that it matters, but most of what follows is true.” Its director, George Roy Hill, later made The Sting (1973), which had a roguish charm that cheerily conned its audiences.  Martin Scorsese co-produced The Grifters (1990), with Anjelica Huston and John Cusack, in which Huston played an older female con artist who rethinks her life when her son suffers an injury in a small-scale scam. American Hustle successfully blends the darker elements of the later film with the eagerness to please and entertain that made the earlier film an Oscar success and a box office-smash, descriptions that Russell’s film may also steal.

American Hustle is a first class caper, but don’t let it con you into thinking that Russell has discovered his own original style.

John Moran

15A (See IFCO for details)

137  mins

American Hustle is released on 3rd January 2014

American Hustle – Official Website

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