It’s not quite the classic thinks it is, but David O Russell’s American Hustle is great fun with a cast on top form and clearly having the time of their lives.
Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale, almost unrecognisable and with a comb over to die for) is a small time conman running scams with his mistress Sydney (Amy Adams) and ignoring wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who is getting her kicks from sniffing nail polish. When they’re trapped by Bradley Cooper’s FBI agent Richie, he sees a chance to make a name for himself by using them to run a much bigger hustle which would bring down some of New Jersey’s key political figures. Trouble is he’s not quite bright enough to understand the political machinations he’s getting himself involved in, and too ambitious to care.
If nothing else American Hustle looks fabulous – Amy Adams has an envious selection of wrap around dresses that her bosoms seem determined to escape from (there should be an award for the tit tape assistant) – and Lawrence is just the right side of blowsy. Both give their characters real depth, and Adams puts up a brave fight up against Lawrence’s effortless ability to steal every scene she’s in. Bale is superb, revealing enough charm to explain why two gorgeous women are fighting over him despite being physically quite repulsive, and Cooper puts in an excellent performance, doing annoying jerk really well while carrying off a merciless poodle perm. I particularly liked Jeremy Renner as New Jersey’s mayor, a man whose greed comes from a good place and who proves the unwitting lynchpin for the team’s elaborate hustle.
This is a highly enjoyable film, and as it gallops towards the end, and you start to lose track of who is conning who, it all comes together really well. For me there was also the added bonus of lovely Jack Huston (Richard Harrow from Boardwalk Empire) as a bit of love interest for poor old Rosalyn and there’s another neat surprise cameo which I won’t spoil here but which prompted the annoying people behind me to shout his name out loud in case nobody else had realised. Louis CK is good too, as Richie’s exasperated boss who can never quite get to the end of an anecdote.
Russell is clearly wearing his influences on his sleeve – treading heavily in Goodfellas territory with a little bit of Boogie Nights thrown in and a shimmer of Casino. That’s not entirely a bad thing (though the voiceover is a bit grating) but it does mean that yet again Russell isn’t quite giving his own voice the chance to shine – a bit like in Silver Linings Playbook which veered a bit too much into traditional romcom territory when it promised to be so much more. I always want there to be a bit more edge in his films, which is why they generally leave me a bit disappointed.
Not too much disappointment here though, American Hustle is a great romp and despite a slow start and a soundtrack that doesn’t quite hit the mark, once it gets going – and once Jennifer Lawrence gets a bit more screen time – it fairly zips along. And the hair is fabulous.
It’s hard not to enjoy a film where Ryan Gosling gets tattooed up and drives very fast. And for a while, The Place Beyond the Pines is highly enjoyable – visually striking, stylish and with a big dollop of cool, it’s a much more ambitious film than Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine. But it’s that ambition which I think dulls the impact it could have had.
The first part starts with Gosling tattooed up and driving a motorbike very fast (NB nothing like Drive, when he was tattooed up and drove a car very fast). Gosling is mesmerising as fairground stunt driver Luke Glanton who gives an old flame a lift home and comes away with a bit more than he expected – turns out he fathered a son last time he was in town. It’s a bit of a shock to the system and when the fair leaves Schenectady the next day, he hangs around aiming to make good with Romina (Eva Mendes, great but wasted) and his surprise offspring. Trouble is, the only way he can make money to impress them is by getting into trouble.
Schenectady is also home to Avery Cross, a rookie cop played by Bradley Cooper who we meet in the second part of the film. He’s ambitious, and not afraid to rub people up the wrong way to get what he wants, but there’s a sentimental streak too which his run in with Luke has left deeply buried. Avery might be doing the right thing, but it’s for the wrong reasons and he’s a hard character to sympathise with. It feels like a very different film from now on, the coolness has vanished and is replaced with a fairly stoic police procedural. Even my old favourite Ray Liotta as an evil-eyed bad cop isn’t used enough to save it.
By the final part I was bored and a bit cross (it was at this point that the woman next to me rang home to tell her folks what time she’d be back for tea). We’re 15 years or so on now and the focus is on Luke and Avery’s sons. I suspect they might have been swapped at birth – Luke’s son is quiet and fairly decent, while Avery’s is a drug taking bully. The story loses its thread here and although you can see what Cianfrance is trying to achieve, the long windedness and slightly gauche plotting meant I didn’t really care what came of them all by this point. The startling momentum of the first act is long gone.
Worth seeing for the opening scene alone, The Place Beyond the Pines lacks enough focus to be anywhere near good as it could have been. Great performances all round though, and hard not to approve of any film where Ryan Gosling gets tattooed up and drives very fast.