Dir.:David O. Russell
They are saying that this is the best Martin Scorsese film that he never directed.This is unfair to both David O. Russell and Mr Scorsese.Granted that as I snorted on the trailer I was thinking about Scorsese’s Casino(1995). American Hustle has the same visual palette and similar looking characters.But to its credit this film does not take itself too seriously, it has four characters who are so deliciously over the top that we can’t help but just sit back and allow them to entertain us.
The film is loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal in the 70’s where several US congressmen where indicted for bribe taking. But its not about the plot, its about a time and place that still resonates in every movie goers memory even if he was born in the eighties.The film uses little touches like using a microwave as a novelty. A microwave also featured in Carlitos Way(1993) where we were told that it works by rearranging the molecules, here we are told that it may destroy all the nutrients of the food as a backhanded reference to present day sensibilities . The hair and costumes add significantly to the atmosphere, with references to Saturday Night Fever, Atlantic City and many others, this is one helluva nostalgia trip.And speaking of Atlantic City the plot centres around a con job to revive Atlantic City and the every time the place was mentioned I felt a lump in my throat at the memory of Louis Malle’s masterpiece by the same name.
The plot is completely subservient to the dialogues and characters, maybe Mr Tarantino should look in his rear view mirror. The scenes are so fluid in all their dimensions, the swooping camera, the ad-libbed dialogue and the unguarded performances, that for long stretches we are content to just soak in the atmosphere and the company of these crazy people. Christian Bale put on 40 pounds and slouched so dangerously that he ended up herniating two of his spinal discs. That must have hurt, I am still recovering from a spine surgery to fix a similar problem. I just hope that the trouble was worth it for him, I could have lived with a pillow stuffed in his shirt. Performance wise Mr Copper and Ms Lawrence bring little new material to the table, both their characters and histrionics roughly are a continuation of what they were trying to do in their last outing together with the same director in last years Silver Linings Playbook.
Ultimately its Amy Adams who hustles all the qualitative excitement in a performance that deserves a fifth Oscar nomination for her, and this time as a lead performance, if not the award itself.She is a brave actress and a simple juxtaposition of this character with her outing in PT Anderson’s The Master makes it plain that she is staking her claim to be one of the best we have.Her real life 3 year daughter has ben telling her that she has shown too much side boob in the film, one day she will be old enough to understand that it was all for the sake of art.In some shots she reminded me of a young and wild Susan Sarandon.Like Louise of Thelma and Louis(1991) she lives dangerously despite herself and when Jennifer Lawrence plants a messy kiss on her face we know that Mr Russel is not a wee bit serious about the story.He is having fun, the actors are having fun, and so should we.
The camerawork is a complete showboat job, it adds to the almost unreal kinetic frenzy of the action. One of the weaknesses of the film is its runtime which at 140 minutes begins to wear one down with its distinct lack of visual variety but having said that if you are in the right mood you may be left panting for more. Watch out for Robert De Nero, who shines in a scene with all the menace of Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas( 1990). American Hustle is a love song set to the tunes of the best films of the period. The film was originally titled American Bullshit which is exactly what the plot is all about but Mr Russell’s characters turn the bullshit into shitloads of fun.