American Hustle

Posted: January 20, 2014 in Film reviews

Directed by David O. Russell. Starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence.

And so the first film I see in 2014 is a period piece set in 1978. Go figure!

It’s New York, it’s the late 70s and Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) is a successful con man who becomes even more proficient after he partners up with Sydney Prosser (Adams). As well as a great working relationship, they also fall in love…which makes things a little tricky because Irving is married to Jennifer Lawrence’s Roslyn and is adoptive father to her son. Roslyn makes it clear she’s never going to divorce him and is, as Irving says, the Picasso of passive aggressive…

Just when things seem complicated enough, Irving and Sydney fall foul of ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) who gives them a choice, do time or help him put four criminals behind bars. Irving and Sydney agree, but before long things spiral out of control, because Richie doesn’t just want to settle for common criminals, he has his eye set on corrupt politicians and even the Mafia. Can Irving and Sydney get out of this alive?

Ok, let’s get the obvious out of the way first. The hair. This is a film where the hairstyles are almost characters in themselves; from Christian Bale’s elaborate comb over to Bradley Cooper’s perm and Jeremy Renner’s huge quiff. I think it’s a bit unfair to focus on this however, the film’s set in the seventies after all, and the hairstyles are just one part of a very elaborate set design that captures the period well (albeit perhaps slightly hyper realised) and it’s disingenuous to the actors themselves because each one of their performances is infinitely more than their hair.

This is very much an actors’ film, and aside from the realisation of New York in 1978 it’s the performances that make this film. Bale is unrecognisable as Irving. The man who famously emaciated himself for The Machinist this time piles on the pounds to give Irving a bigger than average paunch, but it’s his acting that makes Irving a character we can root for, the way he haunches his shoulders, the increasing exasperation in his eyes as events spiral out of control, his unsaid shame at having to help convict Jeremy Renner’s likable politician. It’s a great performance, but it’s by no means the only one.

Amy Adams is a revelation; funny, sexy, sassy and conflicted, with a variable English accent (which makes sense) masking her own insecurities. And whether she’s romancing Irving or Richie, you’re never remotely sure where her loyalties lie.

Bradley Cooper once again proves he’s more than a pretty face, and isn’t afraid to take the mickey out of himself. Seeing him with curlers in, or dressing like John Travolta, is almost worth the price of admission alone, and his increasingly manic performance is fascinating in the same way a slow motion car crash is.

Jeremy Renner is another playing against type as a salt of the Earth local mayor, and it’s his character amongst all of them who you probably feel most sorry for. There’s also a cameo from…well let’s just say a cameo by a famous Italian American actor who manages to be utterly terrifying for the few minutes he’s on screen.

But the real standout for me, with limited screen time, is Jennifer Lawrence as Roslyn. As weird as it is seeing Batman as a bald fat guy, it’s an equally effective transformation for Lawrence, and you have to pinch yourself to remember that this trashy, mouthy New Yawk housewife is actually Katniss Everdeen! And yes, the Live and Let Die bit is a scream.

The film is too long, and it does take a while to acclimatise to the world we’re presented with (I realise those two statements are at odds, but it’s true). In terms of plot it’s fairly straightforward stuff, and even though I didn’t see the twist coming, in terms of movies about con artists this doesn’t even come close to challenging for The Sting’s crown, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be that kind of film. It’s a film about characters, and a film about deception, not just the deception of the con as much as the deceptions we all routinely hide behind, and my favourite bit has to be Amy Adams telling Richie that there’ll be no more lies…all the while never letting her fake English accent drop…

Some reviewers have said this film is style over substance, and whilst I can see where they’re coming from I think they’re wrong. What they mean is style over plot, but I think there’s a lot of substance here, it’s just in the performances, and it gives us a bunch of characters I was more than happy to spend time with.


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