a m e r i c a n h u s t l e
1st January 2014
David O. Russell
3rd January 2014
It’s a strange entity is American Hustle. There’s no denying that it is entertaining, even at 218 minutes boredom didn’t set in but then neither did actual enjoyment. A lot of the time the overwhelming feeling was probably…bewilderment. Having read all the five star reviews subsequently one can’t help but feel that maybe it’s Russell who’s pulled off the biggest con after all.
American Hustle is loosely based on the Abscam bust in the 1970’s. The FBI teamed up with Long Island con artist Mel Weinberg in a bold sting involving a fake Sheikh, which resulted in bringing down corrupt politicians in the early 1980s. Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, our movie Weinberg, and we first see him, overweight, middle aged, sticking a ridiculous hairpiece to his bald pate with the concentration of a great artist. In a Goodfellas type flashback we see how Rosenfled has built himself up after watching his father suffer as a local businessman with dry cleaning units, but what he really loves is selling fake art and fake loans. Still a small time crook targeting desperate punters, Russell is obviously fond of Rosenfeld and we are too, thanks mostly to Bale’s performance. When Rosenfeld encounters beautiful broken redhead Sydney Prosser (Adams) at a pool party they share a taste in Duke Ellington as well as the desire for self reinvention that sets them on the path to more money and more attention.
Sydney swiftly reinvents herself as Lady Edith with British banking connections and the two are taking candy from the proverbial baby with their loan scam when FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper with a wicked perm) slams into their lives and forces them to run a scam for the FBI in order to avoid going to jail. With crazy and clearly unhinged DiMaso at the helm however the scam rapidly accelerates and they target the much liked New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) and offer a $2 million investment opportunity to help kick-start Atlantic City development plans. Still with us? Good, because it gets a whole lot crazier from here in. Throw in that fake Sheikh, local mobster Tellegio (a menacing cameo from Robert De Niro) and Rosenfled’s crazy wife, (oh yes, we didn’t mention he was married) Rosalyn (Lawrence simply stealing the show) and here we go on the merry go round that is American Hustle.
It’s clear from past projects that Russell is fond of crazy. He likes an unhinged, over the top character and when it works well, it really works. He has helped both Bale and Lawrence win their Oscars and it’s clear that some actors love and respond well to his barmy ways. There is no denying that what he has elicited from this cast his is at times fantastic. The best are Bale, who is magnetically convincing as Rosenfeld and Lawrence, who steals the whole film with her portrayal of crazy but innately loveable fire hazard Rosalyn. Cooper and Adams are slightly worse off because their characters are just so OTT it’s hard to stomach them at times. Adams is of course a phenomenal actor but Sydney/Edith is a testing woman and at times pushed too far. One of the best scenes in the movie puts Adams and Lawrence head to head in the ladies toilet and while just the sight of them together is exciting one couldn’t help but wish they had better words coming out of their exquisite mouths. Cooper does well with megalomaniac DiMaso and he has some fun scenes with Louis CK who plays his long suffering boss desperately trying to get through an ice fishing story. Jeremy Renner shines and is the best we’ve seen him since The Hurt Locker and a quick mention for the increasingly interesting Jack Huston.
Costume designer Michael Wilkinson and production designer Judy Becker have clearly been given free reign to have as much fun as possible. This film is SEVENTIES with a capital seventies. Everything is so OTT it is constantly verging on the ridiculous and it’s a testament to the actors that they don’t get lost in it. One couldn’t help but feel a little bored of the sight of nearly all of Amy Adams boobs in yet another extremely low-cut dress. Lawrence fared better and the men, well Renner and Louis CK are the only ones that didn’t look either slightly or completely ludicrous throughout. There are some strange shot choices of groins and hands that pay homage to both the 70’s and Goodfellas style but just felt a little odd here in this movie. There are three editors credited on this film and that is not a surprise. Editing American Hustle was probably like trying to do a 1500 piece jigsaw puzzle of clear blue sky.
Story isn’t the most important thing here. Having read somewhere about how great the ‘twist’ was at the end I was left wondering what twist that was? A great deal of the movie was spent wondering who was scamming who but then it become clear that actually it wasn’t going to be that clever and everyone’s having far too much fun to worry about that. It’s borrowing heavily and unapologetically from Goodfellas and has bit of The Sting thrown in with its slapstick comedy appeal. The music used is quite often too comedic and has a quite heavy handed effect. A scene of Rosalyn cleaning erratically whilst singing to Live and Let and Die is close to genius. So we know that in American Hustle performances are king and everything else is secondary. If you get your head round that then it’s absolutely worth a look but it’s no Grifters and to be honest I was hoping for a bit more swag, panache and dazzle.
Check out the trailer here.