American Hustle (M)
* * * *
Director: David O. Russell.
Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner.
AS with his previous films The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell can expect to be bothering the prize-givers this award season with American Hustle.
His quirky (and highly fictionalised) take on the late ’70s ABSCAM scandal — an FBI sting operation targeting political corruption — is an impressive mix of excellent performances, Russell’s now-trademark warped humour and escalating intrigue, all wrapped up as a clever con film.
Bale disappears into his role as tubby combover-wearing scam artist Irving Rosenfeld, who falls in love with the equally- deceptive Sydney Prosser (Adams), despite being married and having a son with the unreliable Rosalyn (Lawrence).
Irving and Sydney’s ruses are interrupted by the arrival of ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper), who coerces them into helping with an elaborate plan to entrap government officials accepting bribes.
With his cast of Oscar winners and nominees, it would seem Russell could do no wrong, although such recent all-star underwhelmers as Gangster Squad and The Counselor suggest otherwise.
Thankfully that’s not the case because there is a predominantly sharp script to give these meaty roles, outstanding turns and top-notch thespians plenty to do. A slightly clumsy multi-narrator technique, a few dud lines and some overly laboured themes are only mildly distracting compared with the exemplary work of Bale, Adams, Cooper, Lawrence and Renner.
All ride the line between caricature and believable person perfectly, instilling a level of pathos and heart to some strange people who do an array of dastardly, adulterous and dodgy things.
This helps carry the audience on Russell’s perhaps overlong journey and keeps you invested in the potentially-dry world of political malfeasance.
The other spark of the film is a welcome oddness to proceedings. Much has been made of American Hustle being “Russell doing Scorsese” — which is kinda true — but there’s a certain offbeat charm to this that would seem out of place in Goodfellas or Casino.
Here it’s a plus, particularly in scenes involving comedian Louis K as Cooper’s FBI boss or a dark moment soundtracked by Paul McCartney’s Live And Let Die or an interlude involving a microwave, with the gentle humour setting the film apart from other con movies or investigation tales, as well as adding to the characters.
All of this adds up to a well-balanced comedy-drama that explores deception and survival — the lies big and small that we tell the world, the people we know and ourselves to get by.
With one of the best ensemble casts and an interesting and slightly askew take on a run-of-the-mill political scandal, American Hustle is one of the best films of the year.
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