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American Hustle

An all-star cast featuring Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Christian Bale feature in this authentic, intelligent film.
American Hustle

“A rather elaborate comb-over” is how the glamorous, garrulous Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams, Man of Steel) describes the hairstyle of her lover, business partner and fellow conman Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight Rises); indeed, in his first on-screen sighting, the meticulous construction of his crowning glory is laid bare for all to see. It takes time for Irving’s hair to be teased, preened and handled to sit just so, to project the ideal appearance, and to hide the secret of his thinning terrain. What proves true for his careful coiffure also proves true for the surrounding film.

American Hustle is all about the perception of perfection, the manufacturing and maintaining of an image, the fakery that means its pair of protagonists just might make it to the larger life they so desperately dream of. Their façade is fragile, however, with even the smallest disruption teeming with the potential to unravel their hard work. For Irving’s hairstyle, and for the existence that depends upon its deception, hot-headed, arrogantly ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper, The Hangover Part III) is that such threat. When Richie is introduced, he swiftly sends Irving’s purposefully-placed strands akimbo, a thoughtless act borne of his own ego. The simple slight between supposed collaborators speaks to the story that will unravel; where Irving plans, Richie plunders.

Telling a tale irreverently summarised in the opening inter-titles as somewhat true, writer/director David O. Russell and his co-scribe Eric Singer (The International) chart the coming together of the smart, slick, well-suited fraudsters and the eager, ambitious lawman in the notorious Abscam fiasco, all in the name of luring a bigger fish into corruption and criminality. New Jersey-based mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) is their target, his willingness to do whatever it takes to improve his home state his weakness. At Richie’s legally-backed insistence, Irving and Sydney spin a cunning trap; the complex relationship between the trio, and the unpredictable nature of Irving’s beautiful but brazen wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) adds a further layer of peril.

An air of familiarity wafts over Russell’s effort, not just in the assembly of talent from his past two films (Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter), nor the blistering performances he again elicits – but never does the recognisable become all-consuming. A crime, con, heist and mob flick all wrapped into one sleek period package, American Hustle serves up the best of each in its intricate narrative. Its mood is cheeky and charming as all the best capers are, as it matches its often-hilarious content with a pulsating 1970s soundtrack. Its use of the many tricks of its adopted genres – narration chief among them – recalls its predecessors, but paves its own way. The film takes its acquainted elements, and gives them the Russell treatment, madcap mania and an abundance of chaotic screwball comedy always evident below the surface.

Again and again, the film embodies and impresses the fake versus real divide, from its playful subversion of its seemingly accepted details, to the constant posturing that drives its characters. The textured American Hustle isn’t shy with its discussion of the power of belief, the mantra of confidence that sees all within its frames aim high and often achieve higher. In every way, be it aesthetic choices enacted in Linus Sandgren’s (Promised Land) fluid camerawork and Alan Baumgarten (Gangster Squad), Jay Cassidy (Seeking Justice) and Crispin Struthers’ (I Am Number Four) smooth editing, or emotional refrains that mask vulnerability with bravado, the chasm between how things seem and how they are is what the film lives and breathes.

Never is the juxtaposition as keenly felt as in the feature’s performances, ones perhaps gifted with the dilemma of competing for attention. Balance is key, and is achieved, through the tenor with which each actor operates. Bale transforms physically and psychologically into a swindler with genuine sweetness, and Adams simmers as his shrewd but delicate co-pilot, their shared scenes alight with sparks as well as sensitivity. Cooper crackles with mis-spent but well-meaning energy, and Renner is the genial, considerate politician, but it is Lawrence’s mischief and manipulation that stops the show. Together, their work cajoles and complements, intersects and infects, amuses in its broad strokes yet never fails to feel authentic. Together, the cast – supports Louis C.K (Blue Jasmine), Jack Huston (Kill Your Darlings) and Alessandro Nivola (Ginger & Rosa) included – is the immaculate quiff atop an imposing figure. Underneath can be intermittently messy, but it always sparkles – with intelligence, entertainment, and incisive amusement.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5


American Hustle

Director: David O. Russell        

US, 2013, 138 mins


Release date: December 12

Distributor:  Roadshow

Rated: MA

Sarah Ward

Wednesday 11 December, 2013

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, SBS Movies and Flicks Australia. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, Metro Magazine, Screen Education and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay