Wednesday, 9 April 2014

American Hustle [2013]

Over the Christmas and New Year period, this was one of the movies I was most eagerly awaiting. Before mid-way through 2013, I wasn't particularly well versed in the directorial work of David O'Russell and following the Oscars hype (and general hoo-ha) surrounding Silver Linings Playbook, I was further removed (due to my innate aversion to 'hype', listening to Public Enemy and choosing to not believe in it). Having been strong-armed by a couple of good friends I finally succumbed and have been hooked ever since.

Of late, Mr. O'Russell has managed to write and/or direct films that are regular Oscar nominations and despite this piece not bagging the golden statuettes in the same way as Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, it still stands up against them (in my opinion, of course).

It has been said (by reviewers I hold in some esteem) that American Hustle is all surface and sheen and not very much more (unless you include the much discussed hair-do's sported in full by the cast). If you are not inclined to fully absorb yourself in every story, I can totally understand this stance. Whilst on the periphery it can be difficult to see past the carefully selected soundtrack (a complimentary blend of modern and era-specific tunes), the elaborate and intricate hair - make-up - costume combinations and twisting plot.

But beyond its shiny exterior lies a tale of characters fraught with weaknesses and vulnerabilities that begin to unfold as you peel your way through the curtain of charisma. From the outset it is clear that there is a great deal of humour to be enjoyed (Christian Bale elaborately and precisely constructing his comb-over for the opening scene) but before you realise it an overwhelming sense of sadness takes hold. Each of the main quartet is leading an existence directed towards bettering ones circumstances, by means of an 'easy option' which inevitably becomes complicated and exhausting (more importantly: hair dishevelling).

What I took from American Hustle (aside from a great looking movie, hair, make-up, costume) was loneliness, hopelessness and the chance that striving for closure may or may not result in a moment of contentedness, perhaps at the expense of someone else's attempt at the very same thing.

The performances are terrific. Christian Bale embodies (literally as well as figuratively) his beaten down, chronically out of shape con-man; Bradley Cooper convinces as a smitten, single-minded, success driven and overlooked cop; Amy Adams is sexy, seductive and barely convincing as British high society and Jennifer Lawrence continues her great form, not even needing all that much screen time for her presence and wisdom to reverberate throughout. Special mention should be made to her rousing, lip-syncing-in-marigolds moment that will remain for many as a stand-out moment in the movie, as much for its conviction of character submersion as for its down-to-earth hilarity. Also worth tipping the cap to Robert De Niro in his cameo as a mob-boss/mafia don (for which is is infinitely most experienced in handling) lending his skills to arguably the most tense scene in the film, even throwing in some lines in Arabic.

Its semi-trueness makes it intriguing. Without knowing anything of the 'real story', of the 'real hustle', it adds further depth as you wonder which elements, which character traits, which plot details ring true. For me, this period of contemplation turned up post viewing, providing me with ample opportunity to further analyse what had previously titillated. [SPOILER ALERT] The plot twisting in true Hollywood style towards the end, keeps one sufficiently on one's toes and provides satisfying closure. A pleasing way to round off the viewer investing so much time and energy in rooting (or not) for those involved.

For fans of O'Russell, Bale, Cooper, Lawrence and Adams, this is good work continuing in what seems to be a long running and successful marriage of actors and director and well worth adding to the watch list.


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