American Hustle

Year: 2013
Studio: Columbia
Director: David O Russell
Writer: David O Russell/Eric Warren Singer
Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis CK, Michael Péna, Robert De Niro

Criticisms you might have heard of American Hustle being 'Scorsese light' are valid. David O Russell wields several of the hallmarks that make a Scorsese movie unmistakable.

It's set in another time that's brilliantly designed as far as costumes, hairstyles and the period detail and remains completely unselfconscious about it throughout. While you'll snigger at ambitious but flawed FBI agent Ritchie DiMaso (Bradlye Cooper) doing his hair up in tiny curlers to achieve a white-fro, the movie itself doesn't. the proceedings take themselves seriously and keep the film from being a slapstick parody of its own extremes.

There's a strong musical soundtrack with a similarly unapologetic use of riffs from disco and popular tunes from the era to augment the power of the drama.

Finally, it looks like they've tied the camera to a series of cables and flying foxes to thrust it rudely into the action in completely organic crash zooms that give it the same sense of urgency and impending danger as the soundtrack.

It's also set in very Scorsesian territory of hoods and grifters, the only difference being that there's little actual violence and only a broad hint of the threat of it.

But it's all in the casting. Bale again proves he's an actor rather than just a movie star be appearing as far away from the straight laced Bruce Wayne as it's possible to do. He's small time con artist Irving Rosenfeld, paunchy, middle-aged, a quintessential Brooklyn Jew, everything from his semi-dark glasses to his lovingly constructed fake hair portraying a man it's easy to laugh at but has to be wilier than everyone he crosses.

He falls head over heels in love with Sydney (Adams, a delightful blend of her usual perkiness and panther-like sex appeal) and before long she takes to Irving's business of forged artwork and phony small time loans with gusto, the pair raking it in.

Irving has a history in wife, ditzy drunk Rosalyn (Lawrence), proving her Oscar mettle again in a great role. Even though she's in only a few scenes, it's far from an obligatory subplot to give Irving more humanity, and Rosalyn's brassiness and big mouth provide the impetus for the very climax.

Just when it seems things couldn't get better, a seemingly easy mark for the crooked loan business reveals himself to be FBI agent Ritchie. He snaps cuffs on Sydney, throws her in the slammer and lets Irving sweat before he offers them a deal; help him snare much bigger prey and they'll go free.

Irving knows how dangerous the upper echelons of his world can be, which is why he's stayed small, and as the stakes grow ever higher and Ritchie demands bigger and more dramatic scores for the sake of his career, Irving tries desperately to convince him they're in way over their heads.

It's bad enough he's befriended and implicated popular, formerly clean local mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner, with hair as amazing as Bale's) – now Dimaso wants to get in bed with mob-connected developers, and when their fearsome enforcer Victor (De Niro) shows up, they better come up with the graft they promised or Irving knows they'll all pay with their lives.

American Hustle would never have had such a sense of narrative class if it had been too straightforward, but occasionally it's a bit hard to know what going on or who's doing what to do. But the final sting is well set up and paid off and it story has a more satisfactory ending than you hope.

Throw in some great design and performances and it's a classic modern period gangster movie. The only reason it left the Oscars empty handed was because there were just better names in each category.

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