Film review: American Hustle

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Joseph Austin reviews David O Russell’s black comedy-cum-crime drama, American Hustle.

It’s 1978 and American Hustle’s preface informs us that “some of this actually happened”.

American Hustle

American Hustle

Cut to a man standing before a mirror in a burgundy velvet smoking jacket.

We know him as Christian Bale, last seen on the big screen in 2012’s epic Batman finale The Dark Knight Rises.

No longer donning the cape and cowl, Bale’s character is sporting a rather hefty gut and glorious combover, which has been painstakingly styled (for want of a better word) with a tonne of hairspray and a vile of glue.

This man is Irving Rosenfeld; laundry store owner turned fake art dealer.

Like his precisely placed pieces of wig, Irving is a fake, a con man, a hustler.

And like any successful businessman (ahem!), Irving has a certain woman, or two, in his life.

There’s his lover, Miss Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who, like Irving, is just as conniving and outrageously content on swindling credulous businessmen out of their money.

Then there’s Rosalyn Rosenfeld, Irving’s ditzy but infectiously hilarious stay-at-home wife, portrayed by the brilliant Jennifer Lawrence.

Irving describes her as “the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate”.

However, there’s nothing passive-aggressive about blowing up a microwave, or a “science oven”, as she so frivolously calls it.

And when she’s not bursting in to the chorus of Paul McCartney & Wings’ Live and Let Die while polishing various mahogany surfaces (it could easily be made into a music video), Rosalyn makes it perfectly clear to Irving their inevitable split would mean she would have custody over their son.

Business is good for budding hustlers Irving and Sydney until hotshot FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) gets wind of their scams and forces them to work for him in an elaborate scheme to bribe and entrap crooked politicians.

Carmine Pollito (Jeremy Renner), mayor of New Jersey and all-round nice guy, is one of said unlucky few who finds himself tangled between a bunch of loose cannons and shifty con artists.

American Hustle defies genre throughout.

It doesn’t really fit one in particular, rather it borrows from others efficiently; embracing the intense elements of a crime drama, the complexities of a love story and the quirkiness of black comedy.

This is the film’s main draw – its diversity.

In truth, American Hustle won’t be remembered for its average at best storyline, but for its enigmatic characters, its glitz and glamour, and plethora of wide-collared shirts and sequined halter dresses.

A nod must also be made in the direction of the soundtrack which [pelvic] thrusts you back to the height of the 1970s (as if the giant collars weren’t enough) and will have you frantically searching YouTube for some Donna Summer and Elton John classics.

Sadly, American Hustle isn’t quite a classic, but rather a playful collage of excellent individual performances and laugh-out-loud lampooning.