UK Release Date: 1st January 2014
Runtime: 138 minutes
Director: David O Russell
Writer: Eric Singer, David O Russell
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis CK
Synopsis: A conning couple in the 1970s become embroiled in an FBI sting operation and are recruited to bring down corrupt politicians.
With the arrival of New Year comes the arrival of the big awards movies ahead of the 2014 Oscars, starting with David O Russell’s ensemble caper American Hustle. The cast is packed with an ensemble of A-list talent, and with the helsman of Silver Linings Playbook steering the ship, it was never going to be anything less than a quirky, witty slice of character-based cinema. Unfortunately, whilst good, it’s a bit of an uneven mess.
Trickster Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) meets the beautiful Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) and begins to carry out cons with her at his side as business partner and lover. When they are caught up in a sting by FBI upstart Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), they must help him bring down corrupt mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) to escape a jail term. Meanwhile, Irving must balance his unstable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) so she doesn’t implicate him and endanger their child.
From the start, there’s an unusual tone to American Hustle. It’s not comedic enough to be classed as a comedy, thrilling enough to be classed as a thriller or dramatic enough to be classed as a drama. Instead, it sits in a bizarre, but entertaining, hinterland between those genres. The resulting cocktail is a truly unique crime caper.
| “She was the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate.”
Eric Singer’s script, originally titled American Bullshit, hung around on the Black List of unfinanced screenplays for years, before it was picked up and partially rewritten by David O Russell.
Fresh from the awards successes of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, O Russell was full of flair for the film and that is evident in the popping 70s retro feel of American Hustle. It’s a visual treat that harks back to Scorsese’s Goodfellas and last year’s Best Picture winner Argo, with a great period soundtrack.
But, of course, as David O Russell has proven so many times before, his films work because he gets the best from his actors. Christian Bale sizzles in a central role that could’ve been needlessly hammy, Bradley Cooper almost betters his Playbook performance and Jennifer Lawrence probably wins herself a second consecutive Oscar with a scintillating turn, including a hilarious rendition of Live And Let Die. There’s also a delicious third act cameo that is absolutely to die for.
| “We fight and then we fuck. That’s our thing.”
Most impressive, though, is Amy Adams as Sydney. Brimming with sex appeal, she wanders into rooms, and walks out with the scene tucked inside one of her skimpy dresses. As she flits between her natural American accent and the affected English she invented for her work with Irving, the true divisions of her personality become clear.
When she gets her moment to spar with Lawrence’s Rosalyn, it’s a titanic meeting of two proud big cats that culminates in passionate violence that is perfectly in keeping with the strange tone of American Hustle.
At times, the silliness of the screwball tone threatens to overthrow the movie and there never quite feels like there’s enough plot in American Hustle to justify its hefty two and a half hour runtime. Thankfully, the film is fun enough that it never outstays its welcome.
Pop or Poop?
American Hustle is a bumpy, barmy ride of a film that shows just how committed David O Russell is to keeping his work fresh, interesting and completely different to what everyone else is doing.
Yet again, he draws great performances from a top notch cast of actors, with Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams particularly standing out as potential awards contenders when the nominations arrive.
Whilst 2014 has yet to ignite on the basis of American Hustle, this is a solid couple of hours amongst some of the finest acting talent currently working in Hollywood.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.