UK Release: December 20th 2013 (London only), January 1st 2014 (UK Wide).
David O’Russell’s next film released within a year or so since his last release of ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ comes ‘AMERICAN HUSTLE’. Originally titled ‘American Bullshit’, the film tells the story of Christian Bale and Amy Adams con-artists trying to frame a corrupt politician (Jeremy Renner), for FBI agent Bradley Cooper who is forcing them to do it, so they can get free of their crimes. Trouble brews however when Bale’s stay at home wife, Jennifer Lawrence starts to question what he is up.
Like ‘Silver Linings Playbook’, O’Russell is known for marrying drama with comedic undertones. While a dramatic moment occurs on screen, he likes to flip it over the other side and bring elements of comedy to lighten the mood. This tonally works very well (particularly with it being a homage to ‘70’s caper/heist movies), as the characters (as with ‘Silver Linings’, ‘Three Kings’ and ‘The Fighter’), have very dynamic personalities (a now hallmark for the director). This comedy undertone is done to better the participation of the audience with what is going on, and helps dictate what and how they should ‘feel’. This ‘feel’ however seems to have confused some. The people who run the Golden Globes, nominated the film for ‘Best Picture in Musical or Comedy’, which to me isn’t any of them as this acts more as a drama WITH elements of comedy.
The films plot is underpinned with messages which can be connected today, with the idea that the politicians are the actual ‘hustlers’, with all their expenses getting paid etc. The script also has a message about how America doesn’t need another disillusioning political scandal after what has happened in the country’s history (shown here with the examples of it being after Vietnam and Watergate). This is also themes about the FBI themselves being just as corrupt (if not worse) as the politicians, as they are seeking with their underhand tactics to get behind bars (again keeping with the ‘70’s film references). If there is one narrative beat which does come from this though, is that of ‘The Sting’. Towards the end, the film does start to feel a little ‘safe’, with how everything it is tied up. I also felt (and this is my personal preference here) that for audience members its harder to get behind these characters (then say in ‘Three Kings’, ‘The Fighter’ and ‘Silver Linings’), as they are not as enduring (yes they have the line dynamitic), as his past characters, something which this film really wants you to do.
The big cause of this is because the film feels like more a showcase (from what they can do from the acting to the production design), then really a great film. It just comes across like as if the main point has become second to that of them telling Academy voters ‘’Look what we can do’’. This is evident with how the intricate plot gets its central points of corruption in America, gets lost in its own tricky. The film is very dazzling though, the costumes, and hair is incredible (Bale’s comes to mind, and so does the actual hair of Jeremy Renner). There is good use of ‘70’s colour and dramatic pans in the direction as well. O’Russell does his job getting his main actors multiple award nods, by getting them to bring committed performances which elevate the film. Bale is terrific here going fully method again, using his ability to add weight (arguably a type of super power by now), Amy Adams (with a help of a lot of tape) is equally as good, reinforcing the acting talent she really is. Jeremy Renner is great also (probably the best thing he done since ‘The Hurt Locker’) bringing the world, the most likable and honourable crooked politician. Bradley Cooper does his best with a fairly flat role, and does bring a certain drive to his performance while Jennifer Lawrence (perfectly convincing that she is a mother to child) adds to her cant-do-no-wrong status by stealing very much the film away with scenes including singing ‘Live and Let Die’ in the kitchen while she’s plotting her husband’s revenge.
Again to reinforce this is not a terrible film, it is good, very entertaining in fact, but I think you can see more memorable O’Russel films. From his current crop it really isn’t ‘The Fighter’ or nether ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ in quality (even if the tone borrows heavily from the latter) but it still a good watch which like all hustlers delivers less then what they promised but if you remember this is more a showcase then really a great film then it’s a entertaining experience, and certainly something Annapurna Pictures could be proud to have in their back catalogue.