American Hustle (2014)
I love me some con-man movies. Whether it’s The Sting, The Grifters, Nine Queens or House Of Games I love the cinematic sleight of hand, the fabrication and delusion, a plot with more twists and veiled intentions than a Raymond Chandler retrospective. Combine that with incredibly strong reviews and opinions Stateside concerning director David O. Russell’s continued rehabilitation after Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter then you have a strong contender to lead into a new year, so with a slight sense of apprehension (there have been some dissenting voices) I broached my first new release of 2014 with American Hustle. The presence of Annapurna pictures on the pre-credit logo’s provoked some reassurance of quality, Megan Ellison’s funding company (Zero Dark Thirty, The Master, Killing Them Softly, Spring Breakers) have yet to back a total loser (well OK, I’m goring Lawless OK?) although I am shocked to learn that the film was only lensed in March of last year, so a six month turnaround to actually get the caper into cinemas is quite an achievement, although it may explain some of the films discreet shortcomings – this is a relatively entertaining and fun romp with a clutch of belly laughs, but it’s not one to linger in the mind.
New York, 1978, and balding pot-bellied Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale in method mode) is a part-time business man with a chain of dry cleaners and a small and profitable side venture of conning gullible investors out of their money. When he spies the ambitious flame haired Sydney (Amy Adams) at a pool party it’s lust at first sight, she beguiled by his corpulent chutzpah, a small town girl trying her best to make it in the big city. Soon roped into his scams and schemes the duo are initially a success, Sydney adopting an upper class British persona in order to lacquer a veneer of elitist class upon their financial philandering. Their luck runs out when one scam turns into a sting orchestrated by FBI agent Richie DiMasio (Bradley Cooper), a similarly ambitious man-child who flips them to potentially nab an even bigger score, his sights on popular Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) who might be the only guy in the entire enterprise with genuine intentions at heart. Polito wants to pull off an investment scheme with foreign investors in order to revitalise the Atlantic City zone with a new gambling supercasino which will create thousands of jobs and kick-start prosperity for one of the poorest districts of the city. Complications abound as Rosenfield’s wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) enters the scene as a bold and brassy boozer, and the double-crosses and scams accrue around the edges as who’s conning who gets lost in a whirlwind of clandestine cameras, fake sheiks, champagne fuelled parties and the interest of the mob…..
Many critics have alleged David O Russell’s recent effort as a Scorsese xerox given it’s 1970’s soundtrack, ensemble cast, duelling voiceover commentary, character piece camera push-ins, whip fast pace and boundless energy, a ‘fauxcorsese’ movie which is a phrase that raised a chuckle around these parts. Well, those allegations are not without merit as American Hustle is so obviously styled around New York’s great chronicler that certain sequences feel like extended homages, and one can’t help but compare this films stylistic flourishes rather disdainfully in response to Marty’s absolute command of the form, of style befitting subject and the turbulent lives of his protagonists. Such ripe underpinnings are sadly absent in Hustle, there is an element of everyone conning each other and no-one trusting anyone but this is never appropriately excavated, in fact the film doesn’t really have much to say about anything and for the first 45 minutes or so is rather a chore to get through. The pace shifts into a higher gear however when certain character meet, get involved and begin to gain some traction, particularly Jennifer Lawrence whom is the real con-artist of the film as she steals every scene she’s in, and the wider angles and deceptions that Rosenfield and Sydney are perpetuating begins to spin out of their control.
With its period setting and occasionally flamboyant costumes – there is plenty of cleavage on display here and I’m not just talking about the women – it’s almost pantomime in places, a current crop of top billed actors playing at 1970’s rather than inhabiting the characters existing in the 1970’s, so taken on that level its an above average romp which keeps the interest levels reasonably high as the film meanders into its final home straight, with a few running gags and character beats just about ensuring the price of admission. One unbilled cameo also strengthens the Scorsese aura which I thought enhanced the film, if you’ve been following Russell’s recent career then I don’t think you need to have the mental prowess of Baker Street’s sleuth to work out who it is. So, speaking of Marty to state I’m excited about Wolf Of Wall Street might be the understatement of the year, I mean you don’t throw out claims like ‘Scorsese’s best film since Goodfella’s, and it might even be better than that’ which have reverberating from the States since its Christmas Day opening without eliciting a windfall of expectation, so maybe as an aperitif before the main course one could enjoy American Hustle as precursor to the real thing, a pleasant light snack before the banquet begins;