“this is actually a remarkable true story although told with a heavy dollop of poetic license”
American Hustle Review
By Matt Allen
American Hustle (2014)
Cast: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence
Director(s): David O. Russel
Screenwriter(s): Eric Warren Singer
Running Time: 138 mins
Since his return to the director’s chair in 2010, David O. Russell has enjoyed great critical acclaim with both The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, both of which earned Academy Award accolades. Now he pulls the best of both those casts together for 70’s confidence caper: American Hustle. Expect whacky wardrobes, bizarre hairdos and snappy dialogue in this (almost) true story of colourful characters and double dealings.
When con-man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his partner in crime/bit on the side Sydney (Amy Adams) get made by the FBI they are coaxed into taking the lead on an elaborate sting operation dubbed Abscam and orchestrated by the erratic Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper).
“Some of this actually happened.” So says the disclaimer that appears before the opening credits and this is actually a remarkable true story although told with a heavy dollop of poetic license. Names have been changed and personalities have been exaggerated to the level of caricature but amazingly the premise and much of the plot has stayed true to the inspiration. However, as with much of Russell’s work the focus is on character over plot.
Bale, as ever, takes method acting to the extreme; this time gaining 42 pounds of belly, shaving his head to accommodate one of the most elaborate comb overs in cinematic history and even herniating a disc on his back after mimicking original conman Melvin Weinburg’s hunchbacked posture. As usual, Bale’s physical transformation is rivalled only by his performance which is typically magnetic and played with admirable enthusiasm.
The remaining cast members are also at the top of their game and all give hugely entertaining performances. The hyperbolic nature of the film allows for amplified reactions and some excellent comic moments, all the while maintaining a sense of real threat to the main protagonists.
The interactions on screen are what elevate American Hustle beyond the film on paper. The cast were often encouraged to improvise when the inclination struck which gives for robust performances from all. Bale and Jennifer Lawrence for instance play off each other exceptionally in one of the film’s funniest disputes.
By the 90 minute mark however, the film begins to feel as though it should have started to wrap up. The runtime could easily be reduced by 20 minutes down from its current 138 and still say all that it needs to without inducing fatigue on the audience.
As with any self-respecting 70s set nostalgia film the soundtrack is solid and should be commended for its originality as it opts for the likes of ELO and Steely Dan instead of trotting out the same old tunes that have been flogged to death by their inclusion in every flashback to a decade that is abundant in its musical offerings.
Although it might not be quite up there with its recent predecessors in terms of drama, American Hustle is laced with thoroughly enjoyable performances and balanced with an intriguing plot which should leave you guessing up to the final reveal. Oscar material it probably ain’t but Russell has proved that his flair for character exploration can even be applied to a more comedic arena.