movie film review | chris tookey

American Hustle

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  American Hustle Review
Tookey's Rating
7 /10
Average Rating
8.23 /10
Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper , Amy Adams
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Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: David O. Russell, Eric Warren Singer

Released: 2013
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 138

An entertaining con.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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How much you enjoy American Hustle will depend a lot on how much you prize style over content. Stylistically, this is director David O. Russellís homage to two Martin Scorsese films, GoodFellas and After Hours. It has the virtuoso roaming camerawork and sneaking regard for bad guys of the former, the black comedy nightmarishness of the latter.

Thereís the affection for 70s kitsch of the Anchorman movies: big hair, disco, polyester. It throws in a welcome screwball energy reminiscent of writer-director Preston Sturges in his prime. And thereís a jazzy, improvised quality that hasnít been evident in any other movie by David O. Russell. Heís become nothing if not confident.

His Flirting With Disaster was distinctly Woody Allenish. His Three Kings was influenced by Catch-22 and Mash. But his last movie, Silver Linings Playbook, took him into the genre of screwball, and thatís where heís decided to hang out one more time with old pals. Christian Bale (pictured second right) and Amy Adams (pictured left) were in his boxing movie The Fighter, while Jennifer Lawrence (extreme right), Bradley Cooper (second left) and Robert De Niro were all in Silver Linings Playbook. Thereís an awful lot to admire in the teamwork and the performances.

Bradley Cooper is splendid as a tightly permed FBI agent who hopes to impress his superiors by recruiting two confidence tricksters, Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and his lover, who may or may not be called Sydney (Adams), to expose corruption in high places and bring down a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner, pictured centre). Cooper has just the right mixture of rampant careerism, puppy-dog enthusiasm and hangdog longing for Adams.

Despite a bravura opening sequence of getting ready for a con, Bale would be few peopleís choice to play a paunchy, toupeed, Jewish con-man, and he never struck me as altogether convincing. He looks like an actor acting.

De Niro recovers the menace of his performance in GoodFellas, but heís on screen for too short a time to make much of a mark, and his contribution to the narrative turns out to be oddly irrelevant. Storytelling is not one of this movieís strengths, and is consistently sacrificed to accommodate some bravura piece of acting. Fortunately, thereís a lot of it about.

The movie is stolen by two of my favourite actresses, Adams and Lawrence, who give scintillating, Oscar-quality performances in juicy supporting roles. Theyíre also, in my admittedly subjective judgment, extremely sexy. Larceny and spitefulness have rarely been more alluring.

And yetÖ you can sense a big ďbutĒ coming, canít you?

The story isnít that gripping, and itís messily told, with massive lurches from one inconsequential set-piece to another, too many unexplained loose ends and Ė for all its energy Ė a lack of forward momentum. Crime thrillers need to be pacier and more tightly written. At 138 minutes, the movieís at least half an hour too long.

The hustle itself isnít all that impressive, while the FBIís tactics seem much too naive and ignorant of rules against entrapment. Like all confidence tricks, the film promises a lot and delivers much less. I can see why some people come out of the movie, feeling cheated. I did, myself.

Yes, itís splendidly staged and acted, but with its all-pervading air of superiority and self-congratulation, I couldnít help feeling that the people who made it were having more fun than the audience. For all the awards it deserves to receive for the acting, I suspect that audiences will never take this movie to their heart. Itís too cold and cocky for that.

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