Wednesday, 5 February 2014

American Hustle: Fancy Dress Party

American Hustle is the latest from the reputedly difficult-to-work-for David O. Russell. A reputation that can't be all that, since the cast is almost entirely made up of people who've been worked with him before. Maybe they're all masochists.

It's the story of a couple of small-time con artists who get busted by the FBI and forced into working an elaborate con for their captors. It's very loosely based on the Abscam operation, but is so upfront with it's inventive interpretation of reality that it opens with the legend "SOME OF THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED", making any cries of historical inaccuracy entirely redundant. The script was originally called "American Bullshit", after all.

Unfortunately, the film is as slight and insubstantial as the flimsy outfits draped over leading ladies Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence. An entertaining, sometimes amusing, but overlong and uninspired grind through a standard con story with a few diversions and some astonishing fashions.

Christian Bale is up for a best actor Oscar for his turn as con artist Irving Rosenfeld, but it's difficult to see why. It's basically a pantomime performance. LOOK HE'S GOT A FAT BELLY HAHA AND A COMBOVER HAHA AND HE'S DOING A ROBERT DENIRO IMPRESSION HAHA and that's it. He never goes far from the ridiculous, even as Irving starts to develop a conscience and actual emotions.

Bradley Cooper fares a little better, tapping something frightening and pathetic in his driven Fed, but you'll still spend the whole time going HAHA HE HAS A PERM HAHA HE HAS ROLLERS IN HIS HAIR HAHA

The ladies are the real stars of the show, with Adams playing a seductress treading the thin line between skilled hustler and sufferer of multiple personality disorder, and Lawrence giving fantastic deluded foolishness as Irving's trophy wife/ward. These two are busy building actual characters while the boys are playing dress up. And they also look a lot better in the ludicrous '70s fashions, but that might be my male gaze talking.

There is solid support from Jeremy Renner (also burdened with HILARIOUS hair) and living legend Louis CK, who gets the best running joke of the film and apparently has a timeless look, because he's the only male on screen not wearing a stupid wig so we know it's the '70s.

Russell continues his unintrusive visuals from Silver Linings Playbook, allowing the lavish costumes and sets to bring the glamour and style to the screen. The actors undoubtedly had a whale of a time too, with everybody going slightly larger than life and a good deal of improvisation. It just doesn't quite click the way SLP or The Fighter did.

As a comedy, it's not that funny (wacky costumes, references to the "science oven" and Louis CK's unfinished story not withstanding), as a thriller it's not that exciting and as a drama, it doesn't really do much you wouldn't expect. It's entertaining enough, and features a wonderful period soundtrack, but a shorter runtime and a snappier pace would've made a world of difference.


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