Sunday 5 January 2014

American Hustle (2014) - David O. Russell

Yes, the hair is ridiculous, but is there really much going on beneath the tight curls, the dodgy comb-overs and the heavily hairsprayed up-do's?

Loosely based on real events, American Hustle sees conman Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his assistant Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) forced into helping FBI agent Richard DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) in a tricky operation to expose corrupt politicians.  It appears to get off to a good start, with a clever plot of manipulation and deception.  Yet as the layers of hustling build, allegiances change and the hustlers themselves become hustled, it soon becomes clear that the convoluted plot and the backdrop of an inherently corrupt society merely cover the fact this is more a character study than a thrilling crime drama.  The layers do eventually unravel but never really amount to much, leaving a plot that's not as clever as you anticipated - it's the audience who are really being hustled here.

O. Russell's film is, at least, incredibly stylish.  Soft lighting, glamorous costumes and locations, and great use of jazz and 70's funk in Danny Elfman's score ensure the film has a confident swagger, whilst the script is frequently amusing and keeps the film rolling at a watchable tempo.

Hustling is essentially acting and it's here that the film truly succeeds.  O. Russell has amassed an exceptional cast of 'of-the-moment' actors, taking the best from his two most recent films: Amy Adams and Christian Bale (The Figher); Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook).  Bale leads the cast as the charming Irving, Adams adds the sex appeal (and a shaky British accent), and Cooper continues to prove himself as a mature and talented actor.  It's Lawrence who hustles the others out of the picture however, stealing every scene as Irving's emotionally unstable wife Rosalyn.  Just as her character is "the life and soul of the party", Lawrence is the life and soul of Hollywood, an undeniable star who can seemingly do no wrong.

Following two excellent films, American Hustle is a slight misstep for O. Russell.  It might be stylish and impeccably acted, but it's frivolous entertainment all the same, focused more on showcasing the talents of the cast than providing a compelling plot.