American Hustle (2013)

Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Robert De Niro, Jack Huston, Louis CK

Directed by: David O Russell

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Amy Adams as Sydney/Edith and Christian Bale as Irv in American Hustle

Some of the events in this film actually happened.

I don't know which, but I really hope the opening scene isn't made up. In what must be one of the most beautifully constructed, scene-setting, character-establishing start to a film since 'For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster', we see Christian Bale's paunchy, twitchy, tired-looking con man nervously adjusting his bug-eyed Dennis Nilson glasses and shooting his cuffs over chunky Mr T gold jewellery before laboriously glueing his back-combed tonsure of hair over a plug of wool attached to his bald pate.


Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle

In fact, hair features prominently in this gloriously seedy/glamorous depiction of an FBI sting operation c.1978. Bouncing in perfectly tonged ringlets, it represents the bravado and brassneck necessary to pull of a complicated confidence scam. Wound scrappily round over-sized rollers, it hints at vulnerability, the cracked façade behind the mask. Tumbling from a chaotic up-do, it becomes a symbol of flakiness, instability and untrustworthiness. Sculpted into a bouffant quiff, it's the 'do of a man with a carefully constructed public persona to protect. Tightly knitted into ridiculous pin curls, it speaks of vanity, preciousness and a complete lack of self-awareness.

Yup, everyone in American Hustle has the hairstyle they deserve, and ultimately it predicts their comeuppance. In fact, match the styles I've described to the cast and I've probably just ruined the whole film for you.

But to be honest, I wouldn't let that bother you, because the ins and outs of the cockeyed, hubristic government plot to expose minor league corruption in the political system are somewhat by the bye in this movie, not nearly as interesting as the flawed, damaged, but endlessly engaging characters and their splendid wardrobes and barnets.

Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld in American Hustle

Christian Bale is at his most method actor meticulous as Irving Rosenfeld, the mid-level conman whose motto, 'from the feet up', could well be Bale's own, his success dependent on similar keen powers of observation and attention to detail. Jennifer Lawrence gleefully escapes po-faced Katniss Everdeen as Irving's accident-prone, self-help book devouring, manipulative wife, who, like pretty much everyone in the film, has absolutely no idea how ludicrous a figure she cuts.

Surprisingly light on violence, drugs and sex (unless you count the many cleavage and side boob shots – if not brought to you by toupee tape, American Hustle is certainly supported by tit tape) and set to a pounding contemporary soundtrack of Scorsese-style prescient pop music, it's a funny, vainglorious, super-stylish slice of late '70s Americana, highly entertaining from start to finish.

Yet, like Irv's partner in crime, Sydney from Albuquerque (Amy Adams) whose masquerade as upper class English rose Edith is so engrained she hardly knows what her real accent sounds like, the whole film itself seems occasionally to lose its own identity: caught between old school crime caper and gritty drama, one minute it's aping Scarface, the next Goodfellas; now we're boogying in the disco Saturday Night Fever style, next Robert De Niro's waiting... talking Arabic.

Of course, bold and dazzling as it is, American Hustle can't actually fool us into thinking it's as good as any of the classic movies it emulates, but, like Irv himself, it sure puts up a convincing front. I certainly fell for it.

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