Director: David O. Russell
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K.
Written by: David O. Russell and Eric Singer
Running Time: 138 mins
Release date: 20th December 2013
I first encountered the work of David O. Russell way back in 1996 with the black comedy, Flirting With Disaster. He has come a long way since that relatively low-budget, independent comedy starring an almost unknown Ben Stiller. He has become a darling of Oscars with his past two films, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook both picking up the little golden statue for its acting and it wouldn’t surprise me if his latest film, American Hustle, doesn’t receive a nomination or two, for this is an actor’s dream piece.
It’s 1978 and small time con artist, Irving Rosenfeld, is making a very lucrative career out of conning men from their money with the help of Sydney Prosser, posing as a British aristocrat. The bubble bursts when the FBI catch them and agent Richie DeMaso gives them an ultimatum: to work for him in a sting to catch crooked politicians which propels them into a seedy world of the Mafia and powerful men from Jersey, particularly the mayor, Carmine Polito. But who is conning who?
Russell’s film of con artists and crooked people follow the route of all films of this ilk, with an incredibly complex script that you really have to concentrate to. What is different is setting it in the late 70s and throwing everything you remember about the time, from the clothing to the hairstyle to the occasional mentions of popular culture at the time. The detail is superb and you find yourself in wonder at how much they have got the period spot on.
It does start off slowly but Russell has decided not to rush things so we fully realise each of the key players in the complex web of deceit. This is the strength of the film, that we really get to know each of the main characters and no matter how slimey they are, you are drawn into their world and you can accept it. These aren’t pleasant people although they would never turn to violence, they are only in it for the money.
There is a heavy mix of Goodfellas meets Boogie Nights about this, with the added bonus that it’s quite funny. What is strange about the laughs is that they don’t really appear until halfway through, as if they decided they didn’t want to make another straight hustle film anymore but wanted to add humour. It also surprises as to who supplies the laughs.
The cast reads like a who’s who of modern Hollywood. Jeremy Renner, donning a ridiculously high quiff, plays the target of the sting as the mayor and is perfectly believable as the man who wants to rejuvenate Atlantic City. Bradley Cooper, with very tight perm and rollers in his hair, proves once again he is more than just lame Hangover movies. His Richie is rich in personality and joy to behold.
Christian Bale piled on the pounds as Irving. With the most elaborate comb over ever, it’s a real treat to see The Dark Knight trying his hands at comedy and he can certainly do it so maybe we need to see a less intense Bale and more of the lighter one.
As good as the guys are, it’s the ladies who steal the show. If you are a regular reader of my ramblings, you will know that I am a huge Amy Adams fan and so I knew she would deliver but I didn’t expect her to do so sexily. As the conniving Sydney, she uses all her feminine wile to get what she wants. Wearing some very revealing outfit, this is one hot performance that works on all levels. The biggest treat belongs to Jennifer Lawrence as Irving’s wife, Rosalyn. She impresses in everything she does and when you compare this to her Oscar-winning performance in Silver Linings, she is getting better and better. Funny and sassy, she ignites the screen every time she appears. It’s worth seeing just for her.
This is a real cracker of a caper film that captures the feel of an era brilliantly, that has a smart and intelligent script and performances to die for. If it hadn’t been a slow burner at the beginning, this would have been cinematic perfection. Don’t let that put you off another gem from a director who is going from strength to strength.