American Hustle recently joined a select band of movies to get 10 Oscar nominations but not win a single award (although The Turning Point and Color Purple still hold the record with 11 noms and no wins). However the fact a film like this got 10 nods is a pretty impressive achievement on its own.
Christian Bale is Irving Rosenfeld, a small time hustler who finds his con man empire growing when he teams up with the smart and beautiful Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). However things look like they’re going south after the FBI’s Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) fingers them.
DiMaso has other plans than letting them go to jail though. He offers them a possible way out if Irving and Sydney agree to help him grease his way into the world of the powerful but slightly dodgy bigwigs of New Jersey. Richie has big ambitions, and soon a relatively simple plan becomes ever more dangerous as he tries to bring down politicians taking bribes and even takes on the power of the mob.
While the scheme could take down some relatively big fish, Richie’s net is also in danger of destroying people who are just trying to do good things for their community in a crooked system. It also puts a lot of people’s lives at risk if the mob discover what’s happening – not least Irving and Sydney’s.
The film is loosely based on a true story, but rather than being beholden to the absolute truth of events, director David O. Russell is more interested in the characters. Indeed it’s what sets the film apart from most movies of its ilk, that the enjoyment comes from the interplay between the five main characters more than the twists and turns of the plot.
O. Russell has a major skill in creating characters and with the help of a talented cast he’s made another movie that pulls you in because you’re interested in who these people are and what they’ll get up to. Whether it’s Jennifer Lawrence’s excellent turn as Irving’s queen of passive-aggression wife, or Jeremy Renner as a good-hearted politician who could be destroyed by the FBI plan that’s being set up around him, they’re all worth watching.
American Hustle also manages to balance drama with comedy, which is particularly impressive considering its humour is often close to farce and the serious moments can be quite intense. However O. Russell realises that these two things aren’t that far apart. Indeed if there’s one flaw it’s that sometimes the film takes things a little too far and it gets a bit silly, mainly when it tries to mix the almost farcical humour and the high drama together. There’s one particular sequence, seemingly designed to show us just how high the stakes have become, that comes across as pretty dumb.
Luckily though most of the time it holds the reins tight, thanks to the fact its strong characters allow it to skip through different tones and genre tropes while still feeling like its telling one cohesive story.
And while Renner, Bale and Cooper may think this is their movie, they’re kidding themselves. Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence are the absolute standouts here. They only get a couple of scenes together, but quite frankly I’d have been happy to have watched a film just about them, leaving out all the guys entirely – in fact I think we should petition O. Russell for a sequel which is just that.
The Blu-ray looks extremely good, which helps show off the great 70s style of the movie, as well as all the wonderful hair – including Bradley Cooper’s perm and Christian Bale’s comb-over concoction. There aren’t too many special features, but the ‘making of…’ featurette is worth a look, as it talks about O. Russell’s process and the actors approach to the characters.
Overall Verdict: A fun romp that manages to be both very dramatic and rather screwball, but holds it all together thanks to some excellent characters and a great cast.
[/specialfeatures]Special Features: ‘Making Of…’ Featurette, Deleted Scenes[/specialfeatures]
Reviewer: Tim Isaac