Film Review: American Hustle

Going into American Hustle, I had absolutely no idea what the film was about. Despite having seen the trailer several times and read up around the film, I couldn’t seem to fix on what it was actually about. After watching the film, I turned to my companion and told him that – honestly – I still wasn’t sure. To which he replied ‘It’s about con men. Obviously’.

That is probably the easiest way to sum up the plot of American Hustle. Everyone is conning someone. To tell you too much more about the plot would be to give away jokes and surprises that are best seen in context. I’ve enjoyed David O. Russell’s last couple of films and the larger than life characters he’s chosen to depict. A big draw for me with this film was the cast, as it was almost entirely comprised of actors I admire and I was excited to see what they were going to do with Russell’s material. Needless to say that on this score I wasn’t disappointed; all the core players, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner gave life and energy to their roles and the supporting players were full of just as much character and vibrancy.

Russell excelled at creating a period atmosphere. Not having been in existence in the 70s, I’m unable to tell you whether it was accurate or not, but it certainly felt authentic and the sense of this being a different time and place, however recent, was palpable. The soundtrack was pretty amazing (ELO’s ‘Long Black Road’ being my favourite) and coupled with the outrageous hairstyles and costumes, it all added to the idea of everything being a bluff, a mask – ways to make yourself other than what you are. Each actor added to this: Christian Bale’s elaborate comb over, Amy Adams’ fake British accent, Bradley Cooper’s rag wrapped curls and Jennifer Lawrence’s obsession with nail varnish. They all had something in their appearance that they obsessed over that they felt was the key to who they were supposed to be. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s joke that the movie was originally titled Explosion at the Wig Factory is totally on point and demonstrates the puffiness and hyperbole of the roles within roles the actors were playing. There is something peculiarly American (hinted at in the title) about feeling like you can make yourself over entirely and start afresh and I’m not sure the film would have worked in any setting other than New York.

Christian Bale was playing Irving Rosenfeld; a schlubby, shifty guy, who he imbued with a great deal of warmth and softness round the edges, making you root for him despite his…unusual business practices. Most of Bale’s recent roles seem to involve a lot of intensity or shouting (or both) and it was nice to see him apply a lighter touch. It is rare to come away from a film feeling that he played the sweetest character. Renner gave his Mayor Carmine Polito a huge amount of vigour, demonstrating an easy charm combined with a sincerity that made everyone else look cheap. These self-made men, trying to carve out the best life for themselves were – for me – the heart of the story and the ones I wanted to succeed the most.

Much has been said about Jennifer Lawrence and the scene stealing role that is Roslyn, and indeed, her role is very comic, very memorable and gets some of the juiciest lines in the film. However, I was a bit distracted by my feeling that she was too young for the part and that this was ground very similar to her role in The Silver Linings Playbook – an unpredictable, damaged young woman who frequently spoke without thinking. There were differences, definitely. But I felt that there were too many similarities and I think many of the other performances (in particular Bale and Renner’s) were better. Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper both turned in fine, eye-catching performances but I have to confess that my dislike of their characters may have coloured my reaction to them a bit!

I really enjoyed American Hustle, it was fast, funny, original and unexpectedly sweet. It’s the sort of film you can’t describe without spoiling, but want to recommend to everyone you know. A particular highlight for me was a supporting role played by the brilliant Louis C.K, with a running joke that is expertly delivered. Much credit should also go to Bradley Cooper for his brilliantly judged reactions to the joke in question.

As mentioned in the open, I’m greatly enjoying David O. Russell’s recent output and now eagerly anticipating what comes next! Go enjoy American Hustle on the big screen (if you haven’t already) before it bows out of cinemas.

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