David O. Russell, the director behind Oscar nominated movies Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter returns with 1970s con movie American Hustle.
Russell seduces his audience with the style and glamour of the 1970s from elaborate hair styles to dazzling home decor.
His emphasis on the suits, dresses and bronzed make-up of the 70s make American Hustle indulgent and irresistible. In the film’s very first scene we’re introduced to the middle aged and paunchy Irving (Christian Bale) carefully fixing an intricate comb-over before embarking on a crucial con.
It’s an intimate scene providing a rare, honest glimpse into Irving’s insecurities in a film where the characters’ fakery often keeps audiences at a distance. The film’s first 20 minutes invite us into a great love story with Irving and his savvy lover, Sydney (Amy Adams), describing their attraction in first person voiceover. As the lovers kiss amidst the sweeping rails of 70s fashion at Irving’s dry cleaning business this feels more like the end of an epic romance than the beginning of a darkly comic drama. The addition of Irving’s clingy, fragile young wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), is a twist that brings this rose tinted perspective crashing back to tragic reality.
The investment cons of Irving and Sydney - along with Sydney’s alter ego, the English Lady Edith - reach an abrupt end when they’re caught in the act by Agent Richie DiMaso who’s keen to make an impression at the Bureau. Richie forces the lovers to take on a series of increasingly risky cons to catch corrupt officials and, as Richie’s plans spiral, the trio are pulled deeper and deeper into their own web of lies leaving the characters and audience never quite sure who is playing who.
Russell brings together cast members from both The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, to pull off this latest film that’s tipped for Oscar success after a string of Golden Globe nominations this January. Yet American Hustle lacks the charisma of last year’s Oscar nominated Silver Linings Playbook with a distinct lack of inherently likeable characters.
That said, American Hustle’s greatest strength is character development that focusses on reinvention and survival, along with a raft of weighty performances. Last year Jennifer Lawrence scooped Best Actress at the Academy Awards for her role in Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook and here she once again outshines the cast in her supporting role as Irving’s volatile and depressed wife. Lawrence wows with an outpouring of sadness, various turns of ferocious rage and comedic scene stealing in an encounter with an explosive microwave ‘science oven’.
Meanwhile, as Sydney creates a fraught love triangle between herself, Irving and Richie it‘s easy to become lost her manipulation, yet Adams brings a consistency to her performance that believably grounds Sydney. Adam’s fluidity in flicking between American and English accents is genius and underlines Sydney’s own confusion about her identity.
As for the plot, Russell’s latest film hinges on the outcome of the con - something that leaves American Hustle feeling a little hollow. Its two hours-plus run time cries out for a big pay off but American Hustle ultimately lacks the tension of last year’s similarly stylish Argo. Yet it’s Russell’s focus on the escalating anxieties of his characters, their frustrated interactions and complex desires, that sets American Hustle apart to make it a 2014 awards season must see.
Running Time 138 minutes