Award hungry director David O. Russell is back with a bang with well timed comedy-drama ‘American Hustle’, boasting an all-star cast and a stunning soundtrack. The plot is loosely based upon the ABSCAM operation that took place in the late 1970s…so loosely in fact that the opening title card reads ‘Some of this actually happened’, but the ins and outs of this take a backseat behind bold performances, loud characters and even louder haircuts. Christian Bale stars as cunning con-artist Irving Rosenfeld alongside his partner in crime Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). When a wrong turn leads them into trouble, they are forced to work alongside FBI agent Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper), joining forces to pull off an elaborate swindle involving casinos, politicians and a fake sheikh. It mixes sharp dialogue, devilish humour and inspired production values to create a flamboyant cocktail of style, served with an ever twisting narrative. This could be the most fun you’ll have watching a film all year.
The influences behind the look and feel of the film are unquestionable, and some have been critical of the heavy usage of Scorseseisms such as slow-mo, voiceover and pop culture flavourings. There is also a strong heady whiff of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, set around the same time, and also featuring powerful feisty female parts – Adams’ Prosser is a dead ringer for Julianne Moore’s Amber Waves. Personally, I don’t have a problem with the similarities as it helps captures the era effectively and to be honest, if you’re going to borrow aspects of filmmaking skills, you can’t go far wrong looking at the works of Marty and PTA. Everyone needs inspiration for a project, and Russell rejuvenates snippets of what has been done previously to produce a fresh take on the scene. Aside from the appearance, which is incredibly key to the success of this picture, Russell brings us deeply interesting characters albeit derived from real life figures of that time. They interact naturally between one another and he leaves us, the audience, not quite knowing who is going to double cross who, which provides masterful entertainment. Portraying them are the names from the top drawer of Hollywood talent, and Russell always manages to stir up big performances from his leads – this time is no different.
He has taken the stars from his recent hits and combined them to form a very impressive poster cast list. Bale and Adams both appeared in his boxing flick The Fighter whereas Cooper and woman-of-the-moment Jennifer Lawrence starred alongside each other in romantic smash Silver Linings Playbook. I can only assume Mark Wahlberg, who has also collaborated with Russell previously and took a large part in the aforementioned Boogie Nights, was thought of for the part of corrupt mayor Carmine Polito but perhaps the shooting schedule didn’t suit? He already has sequels to Ted and Transformers in production. That being said, Jeremy Renner is very good alternative, adding his own flair to the flashy family man.
Christian Bale is as good as I’ve ever seen him as the physically failing Rosenfeld. In his trademark method approach, he has put on a bulging beer gut for the part and he is fascinating to watch as he takes time in front of the mirror to adjust his hairpiece. Equally vain but a far cry from his preening pristine Pat Bateman. His character is given a developed back-story and he is a joy to behold as he fights with his morals whilst keeping up a cool exterior and as well as bouncing off those around him brilliantly. He and Cooper share a highly watchable on screen rivalry and for a change Bradley Cooper dodges the straight role and is at times hilarious, particularly during moments with his boss Stoddard Thorsen, played by acclaimed comedian Louis C.K.
The men in the male dominant cast, including supporting actors such as Boardwalk Empire hard men Shea Whigham and Jack Huston, are all great but the female leads are equally good, if not more immense. Amy Adams in effect plays a double part expertly as her smart trickster uses British alter ego to disguise her efforts, posing as Lady Edith Greensley – her accent is convincing to the point that it would be easy to get lured into her entirely fake persona forgetting it is. Clashing with Irving Rosenfeld’s love interest is his live wire missus Rosalyn, depicted by the in demand J-Law who surprisingly takes the ‘and…’ part of the credits behind the others yet she is scene stealing at every turn furthering her growing reputation after last years’ win at the Academy Awards. She gives off a sexy screen presence like never before, presents Amy Adams with some late competition in the side boob count contest, and performs a memorable rendition of Live & Let Die in her marigolds. This fantastic scene intercuts with the results of her recklessness, a slip of the tongue leaving her hubby in grave danger with the mafia led by the notorious Meyer Lansky.
‘American Hustle’ is a sophisticated epic which wears its influences proudly on its chic velvet sleeves, and is arguably the director’s best work to date. It finds a sweetly judged balance between the gloriously outlandish aesthetics and the complex scam at the centre of the script, representing a whacky adaptation of partly true events with an exciting final act. Bale is outstanding and a stand out amongst one of the best casts I’ve seen in a while with no weak link in sight, and David O. Russell continues his run of form.