Hairly legal – ★★★★
It doesn’t take long to settle into David O. Russell’s latest film American Hustle. At first glance on reading a plot synopsis you’d be forgiven for assuming this was a true heist or a scam movie with the emphasis on plot twists and turns – hopefully something as enjoyable as movies like The Score or Catch Me If You Can.
However it very quickly becomes obvious that DOR has in fact created a massive screwball comedy where every single character is taking themselves to their limits of believability and ridiculousness. I recently watched Silver Linings Playbook and beneath that film’s heart-warming central romance is a realisation from the audience that each character is actually as bat-shit crazy as the guy who just spent eight months in a psychiatric hospital. It’s a credit to DOR as a director and writer that he managed to keep those extreme characters so well anchored to create such a fantastic finished product. With American Hustle he shared script-writing duties with Eric Warren Singer and has managed to compile an even wilder set of nutters who are every bit as fun and driven as the troops in The Fighter or S.L.P., though perhaps lacking a little bit of their heart.
Leading the line here is Christian Bale as laundry shop owner and con-man Irving Rosenfeld. He takes his business to another level with the help of Amy Adams’ Sydney Prosser (who takes on the identity of a British socialite and business woman Lady Edith). Their plans are quickly stopped by Bradley Cooper’s undercover FBI agent who entraps them and forces them to work with him to stop corruption amongst New Jersey politicians, one of whom is Jeremy Renner’s Mayor Carmin Polito. They devise an elaborate scheme involving fake Arab sheiks, hidden cameras, gang bosses, private jets and millions and millions of government dollars being moved around. Attempting to throw a spanner in the works is Rosalyn, the off-the-rails young wife of Rosenfeld who is played by a wonderfully unhinged Jennifer Lawrence.
All the heist stuff doesn’t work quite as well as all the bickering and arguing between everyone, with Cooper and Lawrence being particularly enjoyable to watch going at it. Christian Bale is always given a hard time for being a cold, clinical screen presence and it seems like he’s lightened up a bit here and is enjoying the preposterous nature of his daft comb-over and massive belly. It’s his own character’s little “performance” which opens the film with a sequence of his hair-placement act in front of a mirror. It involves paint brushes, glues, a tiny toupee which looks like a blob of under-arm hair, hair spray and some meticulous combing. It is hilarious.
The film’s period attention to detail is spot on and you’d anticipate Academy recognition for things like costumes, hair, make-up and art direction alongside the inevitable acting nominations for some of the principal cast.
The on-screen message before the film of “Some of this actually happened” really highlights the director’s lack of interest in creating any type of document of the real-life ABSCAM operations of the late 70s. Indeed if you were in any doubt then the script’s working title of “American Bullshit” will leave you in no doubt. That working title also highlights the film’s huge range of spoofers who are all lying to themselves and those around them about everything of any meaning in their lives.
A quick mention for the film’s most grounded character and a man with no time for bullshit, American or otherwise – Louis C.K.. His double-act with Bradley Cooper is great fun and has me thinking I should email Woody Allen to get the two of them onboard the upcoming title he is supposedly working on for Louis.
While the final film doesn’t immediately appear as strong as either S.L.P. or its predecessor The Fighter, it’s a work that will stay with you and should reveal new sides to its crazy cast of characters on repeat viewings.
Released across Ireland on January 1st 2014
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