One of the first major releases of 2014 is David O. Russell’s American Hustle. Or is it David O. Hustle’s American Russell? Either way, add it to the ever-growing list of films called American something.
“Some of this actually happened”, reads a title card at the start of this crime caper. In 1978, a couple of con artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) fall in love, despite his already having an estranged wife (Jennifer Lawrence). The pair are busted by an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) and they strike a deal – they’ll stay out of jail if they help the FBI put a number of politicians behind bars, including a popular New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner).
The first thing to note is the impressive cast – a culmination of David O. Russell’s previous two films. Each of them are clearly having a lot of fun in some fairly outlandish roles, but it’s Jennifer Lawrence who steals the show in a relatively supporting turn. Her inevitable Supporting Actress Oscar will be well-deserved, if just for her rendition of Live And Let Die. But as well as the shiny names on the poster, there are a number of surprise appearances which are more than welcome.
Christian Bale gives another transformative performance, sporting a comedically horrible combover and beer belly. You certainly couldn’t accuse him of vanity. In fact, all the hair and costumes are meticulously designed, often proving themselves the worst thing about the ’70s. With the possible exception of the Vietnam War. Again, expect Oscars – whoever had to do that to Christian Bale every morning has earned it.
American Hustle is reminiscent of Casino, and it seems that this is David O. Russell’s tribute to Martin Scorsese. Everything from the plot to the narration, the music to the design, brings to mind the 1995 classic. But this is something of a double-edged sword – like Casino, this film is too long and too shallow. Admittedly it’s not three hours long like Casino, but it still makes you wish that the talented hair department could have used their scissors on the finished movie.
It lacks the humanity of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, feeling light on characterisation perhaps due to the size of the ensemble cast and the complexity of the sprawling plot. If only they’d spent as long on the characters as they had on their costumes.
This is still a good film, if not a great one, making David O. Russell three for three with his recent efforts. He’s the anti-Ridley Scott. American Hustle impresses with its performances, design and music, which includes David Bowie and Santana. But with its rambling plot and long running-time, it’s as flabby as Christian Bale’s character.