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.
Better received than some of the recent Surprise Films at the London Film Festival, David O. Russell’s latest didn’t really do it for me. It’s the story of Pat Solitano, (Bradley Cooper in ‘I’m more than man candy’ mode) bipolar and just out of an eight-month stint in mental hospital, who refuses to admit his ex-wife has moved on. Pat moves back in with his parents (Robert de Niro and Jacki Weaver – both on good form) and starts trying to put his life back together, and thus, he assumes, persuading his wife to fall back in love with him.
Pat befriends a similarly troubled girl (Jennifer Lawrence) who has become a depressed sex addict following the death of her husband. Then the two resolve their issues through the medium of dance. That’s about it. The mental health issues are what give Silver Linings its indie credentials but there’s a real struggle here – maybe because of the casting of Cooper – between wanting to be taken seriously and the slow slide into, well, into Strictly Ballroom territory. It just seems a shame that having potentially got one of De Niro’s best performances in years, and with great support from Jacki Weaver, the plot gets a bit bipolar itself.
I can see where Russell wanted to go with this but for me it doesn’t quite get there. It’s watchable, thanks to a standout performance from Jennifer Lawrence, but one of the key problems is that Pat isn’t particularly likeable, which makes it hard to see him as a hero of the piece. I suspect it will alienate the indie audience it’s trying to attract with the cheeseball ending, and put off romcom fans because of its bleak first act. Oh, and potentially bore anyone without more than a passing interest in American Football. Overall, a bit of a missed opportunity.