American Hustle (2013)
Director: David O Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook)
Starring: Christian Bale (The Fighter), Amy Adams (The Fighter), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
When you speak about Directors ‘on form’, it is very rare that ‘good form’ means a pretty impeccable trio of films one after another, without a hint of letting up. Spielberg only managed it once in his entire history (Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Temple of Doom, 1981-1984), while Scorsese has never done it (Raging Bull, King of Comedy…….After Hours). David O Russell has just managed it by completing a trio of The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and now American Hustle, a trio so diverse emotionally and thematically that it is all the more impressive.
While his themes may differ, his distinctive visual execution does not, and this is no way a gripe. This is strange considering he has used a new Director of Photography on each of the three films, because there seems to be a clear thread running between them of dynamic tracking, patient dialogue scenes, and unrelenting energy. In American Hustle, the visuals spark off images of Boogie Nights and Goodfellas, no doubt influences due to the similar environments and genres.
American Hustle is a triumph. It could be the best example of a comedy-infused drama in the past 5-10 years. The comedy is scintillating and merciless throughout the whole film, with the laugh count going above and beyond ten Anchorman 2s put together. However, it would be derogatory to call it a comedy, as it’s Golden Globe nomination does so, because the humour is built on and reliant on such a solid core of drama and character, without which it would otherwise not work.
This solid core of drama and intriguing character is spearheaded by Christian Bale, who seems to overall be our protagonist, but that is in no way forgetting Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, whom all bring spades of poise, comic timing and depth to their roles. The foursome is magnificent, and it is this equal magnificence that supports all four corners of the film; every single one holds their own and commands their place in the narrative. If one of them were to be weaker than the rest, the entire structure would be lopsided, and this achievement shouldn’t be understated.
The narrative itself is almost in the background the whole time. The central story, Christian Bale and Amy Adams’ romance, is the beating heart of the film, while all the titular ‘hustling’ is merely window dressing. While you are engaged in the surface material, it isn’t necessarily your focus of enjoyment. This is not to say it detracts from the enjoyment, but to say it isn’t the main source of it.
David O. Russel’s new best friend Robert DeNiro makes a cameo appearance two-thirds of the way through which is a low point. While everyone around him is giving their all into multi-layered portrayals of their characters, DeNiro turns up and once again turns up as DeNiro, this time with a hairpiece on. With his character eventually being the crux of the narrative, it would maybe work better to have cast a similarly charismatic unknown actor who could command a bit more enigmatic steel, rather than use the well-worn DeNiro ticks.
Summary: American Hustle is a brilliant opening to awards season, setting us up perfectly for The Wolf of Wall Street and 12 Years a Slave. It will be interesting to see how it matches up to the former, as word has it that ‘Wall Street’ has a similar fusion of the dramatic and the comedic. As it stands, it is going have to go some way to beat this.
Rating: 4 out of 5