With an ensemble cast of some of Hollywood’s current A-list crop and an Oscar nominated multi-award winning director/writer helming the film American Hustle is already garnering a lot of hype and I would say that you better believe it’s worth it.
We open with the film telling us that “some of this actually happened” and this for all intents and purposes is true. The storyline is loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal of the 70’s in the USA where a number of corrupt politicians were investigated by the FBI. I’m not too familiar with how far-reaching that was and whether we got a sense of it here in Australia but it’s not really necessary to know any of the real history to keep up with the plot.
It begins with us being thrown into the inner sanctum of the threesome that is Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), Sidney Prosser (Amy Adams) and Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) who are our con-artists, trying to coerce Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) into taking substantial bribe. We’re given a brief detour into the Department of Back Story so we can understand how Rosenfeld and Prosser came to be business partners/cooperative con artists/lovers that then resulted in them getting busted by FBI agent DiMaso. DiMaso recruits the pair to then make a play for the politicians by using their conning expertise much to the chagrin of his supervisor Stoddard Thorsen (stoically played by Louis C.K.). The hustling then snowballs as DiMaso pushes more aggressively for larger fish to fry but could tangling with the mafia be their undoing?
Honestly there are so many elements of this film that make it great to watch. First and foremost is the characters, director David O. Russell has never been one to focus too much on plot and prefers to focus more time and energy on those that make up the story. We’re given enough of an insight into the character’s pasts (particularly Rosenfeld and Prosser) to emotionally relate to them or to want our leads to come out on top at the least. Cooper’s DiMaso gradually becomes more and more manic as he gets drunk on all the power of running the con operations and their successes. Renner’s Polito is the nice family guy wanting to make his city better but ends up on the wrong side of the law out of desperation. Jennifer
Lawrence manages to be utterly convincing as Irving Rosenfeld’s wife Rosalyn that he wished he’d never married. She’s probably got a few screws loose and isn’t the brightest, and you want to hate her guts but somehow she manages to be a little charming as well. There’s also a fantastic cameo by one of Hollywood’s legends as a mafia king-pin but I won’t spoil it any further than that.
Additionally, for an ensemble cast, we get a fairly even sharing of on-screen time, and considering that we have 3 main “leads” in Bale, Adams and Cooper, we’re never too overloaded with one character in each movement. It’s a testament to Russell and co-writer Eric Singer’s script and the talent of the actors that we’re given a chance to get in under the skin of these characters, to see what makes them tick without it being too heavily focused on one over another.
The styling including the fashion, hair and make-up is wild, fabulous, and embodies the characters and atmosphere. Polyester and sequins and pastel and stilettos and perms and fur and dresses with plunging necklines with sneaky side-boob. Bale’s comb-over for his balding Rosenfeld is a work of sculpting art with precisely combed gel and loads of hair spray and only just manages to edge out Cooper’s roller-created tightly curled perm. While Renner’s voluminous coiffure and Adams’ perm literally bounce as they strut.
The soundtrack is marvellous, comprising almost entirely of classic acts like Elton John, Donna Summer, the Bee Gees, America and Electric Light Orchestra with the score driven by Danny Elfman. The music, like the fashion plays just as much a part in helping to create atmosphere for this time we find ourselves in. Personally I think the only detraction was that I did find the length a little much and the odd scene potentially dragged a little longer than necessary. It possibly could’ve been a little snappier pace-wise since it was less about the story and more about the characters.
American Hustle manages to not only keep you on your toes with its elaborate con-jobs, it’s funny at times and dramatic at others but at its heart it focuses on the characters.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
American Hustle is out now through Roadshow Films