The new David O Russell film, American Hustle is immensely enjoyable. We’re dropped in at the deep end, with some kind of con or undercover operation going on. And not going well. But we get quickly get into flashback as our narrator and main character Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale), sets out in a life – a life that began by helping his dad’s glazing business by helpfully increasing demand with the use of stones and bricks. We also meet Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), briefly a stripper and writer on Cosmopolitan, before she meets Irving at a party. The pair of them lead a disreputable life conning people who can’t get loans into giving them fees to get loans themselves. She adopts an English accent and pretends she has contacts back in Britain.
But they get caught by Bradley Cooper’s FBI agent, and he decides that their brand of confidence trickery is exactly what he needs to bring down all the white collar criminals he perceives are ruining America. He’ll give them leniency if they agree to help him.
He sets his sights on Atlantic City where the mayor (Jeremy Renner) is looking for money to build casinos since he managed to relax rules on gambling in the city.
In the meantime, Irving’s own personal life is complicated by him having a wife and stepson with Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).
And so we get an immensely stylish view of the lives of these characters as they all intersect and they try to out-hustle the corrupt politicians and mafia.
The film is gorgeous to look at and the production design is top notch. Lots of effort has been taken over the detail. And for the most part the performances are excellent. But I’m really not sure about Christian Bale. He’s just unnecessarily intense. In effect, this is a comedy thriller, yet Bale just doesn’t really have a light-side. Yes, he’s completely immersed in his character – although I find too many of Bale’s characters as being dark and brooding – but I’m not sure he has the right tone here.
Amy Adams fares better, with her decolletage permanently on display in some remarkable dresses that she wears throughout the film. She has a lighter touch which feels right for the tone of the film. Oddly I didn’t really notice that for the most part she was putting on an English accent. I was aware she was doing it, but not to the extent of a character who notices the second she drops the accent.
And Bradley Cooper certainly has the comic nous to play his larger than life FBI agent to the full extent. He’s climbing the ranks of the FBI, over his boss, beautifully played by Louis CK, if necessary.
But probably best of all is Jennifer Lawrence, who steals every scene she’s in. She’s playing “white trash” and is fantastic, with a fine scene involving a microwave “science oven”, and a beautiful scene in which she sings along with Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die. She also has a very powerful scene with Amy Adams when things are coming to a head.
This is also a film about hair. The first shot is actually the full hair routine of Irving in his room in the morning as he carefully applies a toupé and then fashions a bizarre comb-over with plenty of hair products to put everything in place. Later there’s a lovely scene in Cooper’s FBI home where he has his hair in tight curlers, at home with his mum and fiancée.
The music too, is noteworthy, with a fine selection of classic seventies songs. You actually barely notice that Danny Elfman has also provided music for the score.
So a very fine film indeed. But it is over long. It needed some serious tightening up. And the problem with the main character’s casting means that it’s not quite as good as it might be (and some are saying that it is).
Finally, a couple of unrelated moans:
1. I was in my seat for the start of the ad reel, and the first ad was for a Sony sponsored playalong app that cinema goers were asked to install on their phones. There are lots of problems with this. First of all, I think it’s wrong to encourage any use of phones in cinemas. It just sends the wrong message. Secondly, the ad stupidly didn’t give anyone enough time to actually download and install the app. So the idea of answering the trivially easy quiz questions on the app in time to the ad was nigh on impossible. Thirdly, it really wasn’t clear what the point of playing it was. There was a vague promise of prizes, but nothing explained. As far as I could tell, it was simply a ploy to collect sales leads.
2. Is Matthew McConnaughey in every film on release at the moment?
3. But mostly I wanted to have another moan about this.
It’s that time of year when film distributors get so wound up about winning awards that they don’t give a damn about the audience, and simply release all the good films in one go. Essentially, Academy Awards are handed out to films released in the US in the previous calendar year. Because most members are elderly, and nobody in Hollywood believes anyone can remember beyond last weekend, all the good films are stacked into the end of that period. In the UK, BAFTA stretches that period a little so that it can hand out awards to essentially the same group of films. Either way, the result is a glut of films at the same time, many of which have been held onto for months to appear in “Oscar season.”
What’s the point?
Barely anyone goes to the cinema that often that they can watch them all. So lots of good films get left unseen because those who like quality films are being bombarded with all the good ones in one go.
But we live in a world where campaigning to win awards is the norm. I understand that winning awards can do wonders for your box office, or your DVD sales. But at the expense of garnering decent box office revenues at the time of release? Spread your decent films across the year, then I might go and see more of them!
And that brings me to another (final – I promise – for this blog) bête noire – film trailers that simply go on and on about the how all their actors have won or have been nominated for an Academy Award. The reason I hate these trailers is that 1) they seem very unfair on any actor in them who hasn’t had an award nomination/win but mostly 2) that they’re just really gauche. I know that’s an American thing, but I just can’t stand it. And it really doesn’t make me want to see your film. At the very least re-edit your trailer for the UK marketplace a bit (the trailer I saw was a UK trailer incidentally).
A great case in point is the trailer for Out of the Furnace – a film that I assume has lots of awards pretensions. I say that because all I really took from the trailer is that everyone is acting an enormous amount. And that Zoe Saldano hasn’t yet been nominated for an Academy Award.
And it stars an intense looking Christian Bale. So it must be up for Oscars right?