American Hustle: Movie Review
Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner
Director: David O Russell
So, here comes the Oscar favourite - already laden with awards via the Golden Globes, the SAG awards and blessed with Oscar nominations, it clearly is the one to beat.
Director David O Russell re-teams with his actors from The Fighter (Bale and Adams) and his Silver Linings Playbook team (Cooper and Lawrence) to tell a story, some of which "actually happened", according to an onscreen caption at the start.
It's 1978 America and Bale is Irving Rosenfeld, a pot-bellied con artist with a garish comb-over, an affinity for Duke Ellington and an ability to get anything out of any situation. Teaming up with Amy Adams' Sydney Prosser (who's desperate to get out of her current life situation), the pair start a series of loan scams.
But, when they're busted by Bradley Cooper's curly haired, overly eager FBI Agent Richie DiMaso, they're offered a way out - if they can line up four further arrests. With no other option, Irving and Sydney (posing as a member of the English aristocracy) set out about their latest scam, but end up trying to bring down the mayor of New Jersey (played with big hair by Jeremy Renner), thanks to DiMaso's over-enthusiasm.
Soon, all of the players are in deeper than they expected....and not everyone is who they seem to be.
Lavished with Oscar nods for acting, it's fair to say that really Christian Bale and Amy Adams only deserve the nods, with their time on screen blowing everyone away. From the start, Bale convinces as the film opens with a slow long scene with his distended belly proving to be the focal point before he exerts massive effort to create the perfect comb-over. Equally Adams impresses with a character that's lost and desperate to get out of the con world but who appears to be even more lost the deeper in she gets and more determined.
Both Lawrence, as Irving's young wife and who behaves like a brat (and brings some very funny moments) and Cooper don't come close to matching the others; Cooper in particular seems to be OTT - and even Jeremy Renner puts them to shame with a quietly dignified turn as someone who's trying to do the best for his people underneath a massively coiffed do. When his fate is revealed, he looks like a wounded puppy dog in a quiff - perhaps it's more beneficial that he feels more downplayed than the rest of the cast.
Over-use of voiceovers initially leads to a feeling of dizziness and along with swooping, swirling cameras, American Hustle starts to feel like a scam on the audience, aimed at disorienting and confusing as the story unfolds; it's almost as if Russell is pulling the strings and will stop at nothing to stop you keeping up.
In fact, American Hustle is really a case of a simple story being put upon layer upon layer; at its heart, it's about the pursuit of the American dream, and dressed up with some of the worst wigs and cleavage you've ever seen. A vein of humour runs throughout this garish vision of the 70s (with its Mafia overtones) thanks to Louis CK's police boss who's trying to spin a story to Richie.
All in all, American Hustle is all about the spin; ultimately shallow and blessed with some great performances, it's an intriguing choice for such awards success, because whilst it's still a solidly showy film, it's not a totally superbly engrossing one, with costumes, scenery and era recreation taking centre-stage.
The Con is perhaps, on.