American Hustle. Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert di Niro, Michael Pena, Louis C.K., Alessandro Nivola. Directed by David O. Russell. Rated MA15+ (Strong coarse language). 129 minutes.
Some of this is true – an avowal at the beginning of the film. While some of the events may have been actual, one wonders whether this was the tone of these goings on. This is satire, an amusing and funny interpretation of oddball characters and their attitudes and behaviour.
This tone is set in the opening moments as conman, Irving, spends a lot of time putting on his comb-over – reference to his hairpiece often during the film. Later, Bradley Cooper, an intense and ambitious federal agent, has his hair in curlers for his frizzy hairstyle. Amy Adams has quite a few different styles, as does Jennifer Lawrence (hers straight out of fashion magazines) and Robert de Niro seems to have lost some.
By recounting this coiffeur information, it is an indication of the attention to detail (1970s style) that David O. Russell has given to this elaborate con story. Russell has made a variety of genres, from Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees to The Fighter and The Silver Linings Playbook. He works again here with several of his casts from these films. He is certainly versatile.
Back to the cons. Irving has many good things going for making money, being credible to naïve investors, taking his broker’s fee but getting them no money. Christian Bale (who won an Oscar in Russell’s The Fighter) comes across as very different from Bruce Wayne, let alone Batman, showing a flair for comic timing. He encounters Sydney (Amy Adams, also in The Fighter) who is his perfect complement in double-dealings. One of their targets is a mayor from New Jersey, an Italiano, who has mob links though he is earnest about his political influence (Jeremy Renner). Stealing the show whenever she appears is Jennifer Lawrence as Irving’s wife. It is a supporting role but she brings such energy and presence that she makes the very best of her screen time – ditzy and imprudent, often funny.
The hustling becomes complicated when an agent gets wise to what is going on and decides to employ Iriving and Sydney to set up a sting for the mayor and his Florida mob connections. Enter Robert de Niro as a Mafia chief – looking a great deal older (but with a brief flashback to remind us of what he was like in years gone by). And enter a fake sheikh, Michael Pena.
It’s all in the timing, making good when plans go skewiff, exercising trickster confidence.
Surprisingly cheerful, sometimes quite funny, with top performances and some smart dialogue. As they say, what’s not to like!
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out December 12, 2013.