Monday, 13 January 2014

American Hustle

David O. Russell has gone from being Hollywood’s prodigal son to being its sweetheart.  The temperamental director has had his fair share of negative coverage, which usually involves on-set petulance, squabbling and even fighting, not to mention the usual disagreements with studio executives, but his past outbursts haven’t held him back, as the American Hustle, the latest in his trilogy of “awards bait” (after The Fighter, and Silver Linings Playbook) picks up three awards at last night-s Golden Globes, including Best Film (Comedy or Musical) and awards for both the leading ladies – Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence.

American Hustle is essentially a love story. Admittedly, it’s a complex and “out there” model, but ultimately, that’s what it boils down to. Christian Bale once again undergoes a startling transformation as  Irv Rosenfeld, a fat, gaudy-looking hustler with a comical comb-over and soft demeanour, who falls in love with the super-sexy, enigmatic and talented Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). The two of them begin a whirlwind romance as they collaborate in a financial sting together, making a lot of cash and laundering it through Irv’s legit dry cleaning business, until their world comes crashing down after FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper having the time of his life) backs them into a corner and offers an ultimatum: work for him bringing down some bigger collars or go to jail. So begins the bigger tale; the story of how Irv and Sydney, (and Irv’s demanding and crazy wife – Rosalyn), get embroiled in a bigger hustle involving politicians, a Sheikh, the mob, and a collective of nefarious individuals, and everything starts to become a shade of grey. 

American Hustle is the kind of film which should be getting made. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of the eye-candy and visual fodder which comes out, but in a time of remakes, sequels, superhero films, comics on screen, and ‘book of the moment’ adaptations (The Da Vinci Code, Gone Girl, Fifty Shades of Grey), it’s a pleasure to see an original script (American Bullshit by Eric Warren Singer) with wit, intelligence and substantial characters for the actors to sink their teeth into (a lot of which O. Russell purportedly brought to the script himself). What more, it’s also very much a period piece, with music, costumes, set design and set-pieces of the 70s (one scene, paying direct homage to Saturday Night Fever, sees Richie and Sydney go disco dancing), and all the more enjoyable for it. Christian Bale proves once again that he is one of the most diverse leading men, offering up a reserved and sentimental portrayal, which doesn’t really offer up the same awards-bait speeches or grandiose moments that his co-stars have, but displays his range and talent – it’s the look in his eyes which really show Bale is a stunning actor (just observe his pent-up anger in some of the scenes). 

It’s a great film, and O. Russell deserves all the success it will bring. It’s probably his most-accomplished work, and he proves once again that he is the man to bring the best out of his leading men, (Bale’s performance in The Fighter, and Cooper’s in Silver Linings Playbook), and now leading women after recent award success. American Hustle is a jovial piece of cinema, and a film which could be enjoyed for multiple viewings, with some terrific banter, incredulous costumes and extremely funny moments . It is also the perfect tonic after the intense cinematic experiences of 12 Years a Slave, Gravity and All is Lost – American Hustle is sure to provide the much-needed relief. [4/5]

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