David O. Russell is back with yet another Oscar-nominated film starring both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. This time, though, we're at the heart of 70's Jersey with added Christian Bale and Amy Adams.
The plot sees con man Irving (Bale) get together with Amy Adams' sexy bad-English-accent-imitating gal Sydney as they start a relationship and form a partnership which both turn sour when cocky FBI agent Richie (Cooper) decides to use them in order to expose corruption high-up. The nutty plan involves getting close to Mayor Carmine Polito (a perfect, vastly underrated Jeremy Renner), getting the mob involved using a fake Sheik and taking dodgy dealings as far as possible so the FBI can just swoop in and pick up the pieces. Unfortunately, Richie is no convincing con man and his inexperience keeps getting in the way, as does Irving's mouthy wife Rosalyn (Lawrence) and about a thousand other things. Russell's film can be seen as a homage to Martin Scorsese's gangster flicks what with Bale doing his best Robert De Niro impression and De Niro himself showing up in a brilliantly tense, stand-out cameo. Having said that, American Hustle also works completely on its own, feels fresh and occasionally becomes a satire of the 70's and heist movies in general. The film skilfully avoids most over-familiar clichés you'd expect from that type of movie while still fitting in some very 70's haircuts, fashions and tunes. Speaking of haircuts, if this movie doesn't win Best Hair/Make-Up at the Oscars then that means that the Academy just didn't watch the movie. Between Bale's genius combover, Cooper's loltastic perm and Renner's rockabilly quiff, it's a triumph of beautifully bad hair.
American Hustle is a long film, for sure, but it doesn't feel it at all: you'll never be bored one second. That said, I could have done without the whole "Live And Let Die" singalong which just feels awkward and tacked-on. It's much too over-the-top to work and could have easily been cut altogether. The performances in the movie are worth the ticket alone. Amy Adams manages to be very sexy, likeable and even chilling at times, creating a multi-faceted strong character that keeps both male leads wrapped around her little finger. Bale, who famously put on a lot of weight for the role, pulls off a potentially really unconvincing accent very well and gives his finest performance since The Fighter. He brings a mild-mannered, fragile quality to a character you could have easily portrayed in a grotesque way: the guy is quietly much smarter than he seems but he's very human and struggles emotionally at times. As for Cooper, this is arguably his best, most convincing and well defined performance to date: his character being an over-keen, ridiculous douche you can't help but like regardless. He has his cruel moments, his pathetic moments and you don't necessarily want him to win in the end but he's so good every time he's on-screen that you just want him to stick around. Lawrence, in a weird way, is the weak link in the bunch despite giving an energetic performance and making a real effort. As fascinating as her character is, she just doesn't ring quite as true as the others and you feel like a slightly older actress would have been somewhat more convincing in the role. Her Oscar nomination feels a bit forced when someone like Kirstin-Scott Thomas, who managed to disappear completely into another character in last year's Only God Forgives, is shunned completely from the shortlist. Renner, as previously mentioned, is spot-on and Louis C.K., believe it or not, pops up in a terrific surprise role.
It's refreshing to see American Hustle get this much praise during awards season seeing as it's not just a very good actors' movie and a brilliant character piece but a very effective comedy as well. You recognise the razor-sharp, lightning fast dialogs packed with humour which are a trademark of David O. Russell's films and, in this particular setting, they just work to perfection. The film also boasts some genuinely tense moments and a nifty end reveal you won't see coming at all.
Overall, American Hustle was a very nice surprise. The talent involved doesn't disappoint and everyone works very hard to make this an effective comedy and a solid thriller. Barring a few nitpicks here and there, David O. Russell, with this gem, proves once again that he is one of the most promising directors working today. The film is very funny, very smart and well worth a watch.
Here's hoping it annihilates Gravity at the Oscars...