Thursday 16 January 2014

Review: American Hustle

Year: 2013 (2014 U.K release)
Director: David O. Russell
Screenplay: David O. Russell, Eric Singer
Starring: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner

Synopsis is here:

When I think of the con movie, I always expected it to be tight wound. American Hustle approaches things differently. It’s loose, slightly baggy and always seemingly wishing to go off a tangent. This is no Mamet. No House of Cards (1987) here. Even when I think of the recent adventures of Danny Ocean and his cohorts, there’s a feeling that they know everything will be fine. I mean seriously when do you ever feel that there’s any pressure being exerted in the Ocean films?  Then again the moment David O. Russell’s latest starts, the opening credits inform you that “some of this actually happened”.

This is O. Russell mucking around with the crime film in the similar way his he enjoyed playing around with the sandpits of the sports film and Rom-Com.  His film The Fighter (2010) dropped his man-child boxing lead character into a pit with a gaggle of Punch Drunk Love-style sisters (and one corrosive brother) to verbally smack each other around. Meanwhile; Silver Linings Playbook (2012) which Adam Batty elegantly informs us in his review, remixes the romantic comedy with a new age cynicism for a generation to respond to in kind. In Hustle; as opposed to cool, clean and calm confidence men we often think of, we’re placed into a realm of heightened desperation that leans towards the quirky tics that infected Nicolas Cage’s Roy in Matchstick Men (2003). There’s no comfort gained from looking across to your partner as you’re never sure if they were ever on the same page.

As Adam mentions in his commentary of Silver Linings, this is again dysfunction upon dysfunction.  Yet this time we have broken family units slapped alongside gender deconstruction as characters that should be femme fatale argue and fight over men who try awkwardly hunting for machismo, despite their own pathetic standings. That staple of male virility; hair, is mocked often as we watch Cooper’s Richie perm his, while Bale’s Irving is first introduced to us applying his wacky comb over to hid his clearly thinning patch. While the con goes on in the background, the film is more interested in how the character’s frailties and anxieties stand lumberingly in their own way.

What I enjoyed most about American Hustle, apart from its brassy cast, is that it’s lovingly in love with the con in its own particular way.  Its glossy cinematography often lavishes characters in warm slightly garish gold, highlighting the greed. The 70’s detail isn’t as carefully attained as some of the films it’s riffing on, mostly because this is a film which is based entirely on facades any way. There’s a boldness that suggest s that trying to work the con out (which so many of us do) isn’t worth it while there’s so much fun to be had.
The amount of dicking around does become a slight nuisance. The film notes the type of corruption that could explain the nastiness of the Watergate era, or the remnants of the hedge funds that screwed us in 2008, American Hustle doesn’t really have too much time to dwell on that. Like Adam’s eye catching cleavage, it wants to distracts us and keep us a mark for as long as possible. 

There’s the slight feeling that American Hustle point is pointless and the bagginess of the piece (along with the references to Goodfellas(1990), Casino (1995) and Boogie Nights (1997)) take us out of the film somewhat. Yet I can’t say I didn’t enjoy these guys in relaxation mode. Hustle may sometimes feel to some that it’s too much of a con, but the more I think if it was played straight, the more I’d say to myself: where’s the fun in that?