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American Hustle

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.

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Blue Jasmine

If you haven’t seen Bob Weide’s Woody Allen documentary, I heartily recommend it. Even if you’re not a fan of Allen’s films, it’s a fascinating if lengthy doc, and a reminder that this is a man who at his best, is nothing short of genius. Of course with an output of one film a year, some of them are going to be duds, and he’s had his fair share of those. Recently a bit more than his fair share, to be honest. And when you watch Weide’s film, there’s a poignant sense that maybe his best years are behind him. 

But wait a minute. Just when it’s all gone a bit ‘move along, there’s nothing to see’, along comes Blue Jasmine. Whether making the documentary woke something in Allen that had been lying a bit dormant, whether heading back to the US to film inspired him, or whether he was just teasing us with the bad films safe in the knowledge he had a few corkers still in the bag… whatever, this is right up there with some of his best.

Blue Jasmine is essentially a character study of a woman trying to survive her own personal fallout from America’s financial meltdown, clinging on to her privileged life by her manicured fingertips. In the meantime, broke and in the throes of a nervous breakdown, she arrives in San Francisco to stay with her adopted sister Ginger, in her ‘homey’ apartment in San Francisco. Their relationship has been more than a bit strained since Jasmine’s husband Ponzied Ginger’s ex-husband’s $200k lottery winnings.

Cate Blanchett is being hotly tipped for some Oscar jollies for her shattering portrayal of Jasmine, and rightly so. It’s a superb performance, capturing the struggle to keep up appearances of someone who is addicted to drama, pills and alcohol, while keeping a lid on some serious mental health issues. It will give you a knot in your stomach for pretty much the entire film. But the entire cast are strong, from Sally Hawkins as the put upon but eternally good-natured Ginger, to Bobby Cannavale as her sweaty vested lover (frankly he can do no wrong in my eyes) and even Andrew Dice Clay surprises as Ginger’s hard done by ex husband. There’s also a great little cameo from Louis CK, though I would have liked to see more of him. There’s an electricity buzzing among the cast, it feels like they all realised this is Good Woody, and stepped up their game accordingly.

Word is clearly out on this one, there have been sellouts in screens across London and the packed audience I saw it with obviously loved it, though I heard a few less than favourable comments about the ending. But you know what – that’s life, sometimes there isn’t a perfect ending.