REVIEW: American Hustle (2013)

Just before AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013) vanishes from Glasgow cinemas, I’ve gone to see check out what the fuss is all about. To be found in every award short list from the Golden Globes to the recently released BAFTA nominations, David O. Russell’s latest pic has hit the audiences like a thunderstorm.
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Losely based on the FBI’s ABSCAM operation the story evolves arount Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), two con artists in New York who are forced to help the FBI to trick high profile politicians into revealing their corrupt affairs. Of course, obstacles come into their way. While Irving’s manipulative wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) endangers their cover, Irving starts an honest friendship with their first ‘victim’ Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). And if it wasn’t enough that the ill-tempered FBI-agent Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper) falls for Sydney, a notoriously violent Mafia boss (Robert DeNiro) enters the stage.

Spiked with twists and turns it is easy to get lost in the maze of shady characters and back-stabbing intrigues. Co-written by Eric Warren Singer and director David O. Russell the script takes up the audience’s full attention to follow. In a typical 70s-setting manner ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are inapplicable categories. The supposedly ‘good’ guy, federal agent Di Maso, is a narcissistic douchebag with a thing for cocaine and dodgy methods. Not surprisingly, his motivation to bust corrupt politicians is not less selfish than Irving and Sydney’s dubious business model.
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Like other recent releases, like Ridley Scott’s The Counselor or John Wells’ August: Osage County, American Hustle impresses with a big cast. Bale, Adams, Cooper, Lawrence, Renner and DeNiro all in one film – can that even work? Is the director trying to make up for something? Who will steal everybody’s show? And my answers are: yes; a little; and clearly Jennifer Lawrence. It takes about 5 minutes to buy into Christian Bale’s transformation of incredibly hot Batman into overweight and bald Irving Rosenfeld – his performance is outstanding. As is Amy Adams’ seductivly staged naivety and flawless juggle of American and British accents. Cooper doesn’t convince entirely, but plays well into the ensemble. And Lawrence simply rocks the stage. Her portrayal of Rosalyn Rosenfeld is insanely entertaining and her punchy lines make for enough laughs at the right moments.

But as we all know, big names and excellent performances do not make a great film. Even though the plot tries to keep the audience engaged, it develops too slowly at times. Witty scenes, like Lawrence’s speech about ‘the power of intention’ or the encounter with the FBI’s Mexican Sheikh are hilarious, but can’t make up for the unnecessarily dragged storyline.

American Hustle is an entertaining piece of Hollywood. It doesn’t show the groundbreaking depth of Spike Jonze’s Her – also starring Amy Adams – or the lush extravagance of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street – another story about money and corruption -, but convinces with an exceeding cast, mad humour and Adams’ revealing dresses. See it if you can!
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images via IMDB (2013 Annapurna Productions LLC)

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