Thursday, 9 January 2014

American Hustle - A Review

Once again the film awards season is fast approaching, and one film that already looks poised to do well is David O. Russell's American Hustle. Following hot on the heels of Russell's last offering, the superb Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle features an all-star ensemble cast of Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence, and provides a black comic take on a real-life sting operation from the 1970s which resulted in the conviction of several elected government officials. The plot itself is slow-moving, overlong and, at times, predictable, but what makes American Hustle truly stand out is the acting of its leads, who give one of the best ensemble performances in recent history.

American Hustle.
At the heart of the tale are Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Adams), two successful small-time con artists forced into working for Bradley Cooper's FBI agent Richard di Maso to procure the arrest of four individuals deemed to be corrupt. Along the way, a fake Sheik, a seemingly-corrupt but ultimately well-meaning mayor (Renner), and a run-in with the Mafia are thrown into the mix, and though individually these ingredients all have the making of a great story, when combined the result feels rather flat - more of a big-screen depiction of a substandard Hustle script than a nuanced tale of cunning and corruption. Russell, who wrote as well as directed the film, does try to find the right balance between comedy and drama, but unfortunately the oscillations between the two feel, for the most part, tonally jarring and poorly-handled. The sole exception to this comes in the form of Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Lawrence), Irving's neglected, stay-at-home wife whose moments of comic relief are both genuinely funny and disguise an intense desperation to be loved.

The setting is one of the few things that the film gets absolutely right. In many ways a love-letter to the 70s, American Hustle features garish outfits and retro haircuts aplenty. The real highlight, however, is the soundtrack. Featuring songs from the likes of Elton John, ELO and the Bee Gees, the music not only complements the moments it accompanies on screen, but helps to capture the very essence of the decade.

The plot and the soundtrack, however, are not what American Hustle is going to be remembered for. Without a shadow of a doubt, the highlight of the film is the acting. Christian Bale is almost unrecognisable as the balding, overweight Irving, Amy Adams delivers what may just be a career-best as Sydney, Jeremy Renner is utterly convincing as charismatic mayor Carmine Polito, and Jennifer Lawrence gives a simultaneously powerhouse and nuanced performance as Rosalyn. It is only Bradley Cooper who fails to reach the same heights as his fellow actors; he's very, very good, and he certainly captures his character's aggression, frustration and desperation to prove himself, but he's not quite on the level of Bale, Adams, Renner and Lawrence. (Special mention must also go to the actor whose uncredited surprise cameo in the middle of the film is a real high point.) In any other film, the individual performances of all five leads would have the potential to steal the show. In American Hustle, however, they combine to produce a truly outstanding display of acting at its very finest.
The ensemble cast of Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence.
All in all, it will be a shame if American Hustle doesn't go on to pick up at least some awards over the coming few months. It doesn't deserve to win any of the Best Picture awards, but it sure as hell deserves some of the acting ones, particularly for its female leads. Amy Adams tends to be somewhat unlucky when it comes to the main awards ceremonies, but if ever there were a year for her to win, it's this one (even with the stellar Sandra Bullock as a rival contender). Jennifer Lawrence, on the other hand, already has more awards than you can shake a stick at, but her performance in American Hustle shows she's deserving of many, many more. Whilst the film as a whole is flawed to say the least, it is ultimately its cast that elevates it into something worthy of seeing and remembering.

Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence are the stars who shine brightest in David O. Russell's American Hustle.


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