American Hustle

*****

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

American Hustle
"Bradley Cooper as Richie gives the finest madcap performance of his career."

The irradiant cast of David O. Russell's American Hustle fashion a funny, sexy, stylish spectacle of truth. This is how politics works. This is how relationships work. Russell does not do short cuts as he constructs his shimmering all too real characters "from the feet up" and from the hair down. The absurd intensity of the personalities portrayed is life itself.

American Hustle is the story of a point in time, the New York of the late Seventies, and presents a tableau of con-artists, politicians, FBI agents and the mafia, based on the real Abscam scandal, because "some of this actually happened."

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We start at the Plaza Hotel in 1978, with Christian Bale, as slick Irving Rosenfeld, getting his hair ready to go, which as we can see and hear "has been through the desert on a horse with no name." Bale turns in the best performance of an actor with a hairpiece this century.

A flashback shows us how Irving met Sydney Prosser, a ravishing, funny and bedazzling Amy Adams, at a pool party on Long Island. She wears a bracelet of Duke Ellington charms (don't ask) with her crocheted bikini, Irving's pink potbelly fills the screen, shot from below. The two soon reinvent each other, with a fashion show at his laundromat featuring sleek left-behind Diane von Fürstenberg wrap-dresses for her, a velvet paisley coat for him, and a plan to make some money together through fake loans. Adams, who effortlessly time travels to the future in Spike Jonze's Her, is equally comfortable as an alluring creature from the Seventies. Both sets of costumes are an expression of the personalities she plays, transcending the pitfalls of disguise.

No director has given Seventies hairstyles, male or female, more opportunity to shine than Russell does here. Men wear foulards and velvet suits, cold cuts roll around as snacks in business meetings, wallpaper is made from grass, and microwaves are a new kind of magic. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson and the entire hair and make-up team deserve Oscar nominations, not simply for accuracy, but for soaking the adornments in the scintillating spirit of the movie.

Russell reveals his characters' pasts in broad, well placed strokes. Little Irving did not like how his father was treated and decided to become a con artist early on to help out the Rosenfeld & Son glass business by throwing stones. Sigmund Freud's recollection in The Interpretation Of Dreams of a story his father told him when he was ten or twelve that deeply upset the boy may have been inspiration for Russell. Young Sigmund could not bear that his father did not defend himself against an unprovoked attack.

Fathers, heroism and the fear of the humiliation of the other, are prime concerns in his movies. Amy Adams' character says her "dream was to become anyone else than who I was" when she arrived broke and fearless in New York City to apply for a job at Cosmopolitan Magazine.

The period glow - even the cheeks look rosier - doesn't hide the timeless truths: "It's scary how easy it is to take money from desperate people." This is what they do until they are caught with a scheme of fake London banking connections by FBI agent Richie DiMaso.

Bradley Cooper as Richie gives the finest madcap performance of his career. What was hidden underneath the black garbage bag jogging outfit in Silver Linings Playbook finally gets to shine, in a uniquely, ludicrously sexy turn. With wild enthusiasm and devotion to his plan of catching the big fish, he makes the two an offer. Like a cop finally allowed to join the robbers and still be the good guy, he ventures with them on the yellow brick road to catch corrupt public officials and members of the mafia.

In a later scene Ella Fitzgerald gets to tell us that "the night is young, the moon is clear and if you'd like to go walking dear…" and we never get to the de-lovely part, similarly to how Cooper's Richie longs for Adams' female company as she gives the low-cut dress a new meaning. Russell uses songs to tease us mercilessly.

Irving Rosenfeld also has a wife, Rosalyn, played by Jennifer Lawrence, catching fire whenever she can. "Don't put any metal in the science oven," is only one of the many pieces of advice she decides to ignore. Lawrence's performance is truly breathtaking, as she gives the unhinged Rosalyn an authenticity in all her madness. Yes, women like her do exist. You might even recognise your mother. She might ruin it all. "I don't like change. Sometimes I think I'll die before I change."

Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), mayor of the small town of Camden, New Jersey, family man and father of a large family, wants to rebuild Atlantic City. He looks like the perfect pawn for the FBI sting operation and Irving has to befriend him to set him up. "Everything for the people of New Jersey," they party together, plead forgiveness from Tom Jones' Delilah in a roaring duet, and with the help of a fake Mexican sheik (Michael Peña as Paco Hernandez / Sheik Abdullah) who is told to hand over a knife and "make it look sacred," lure in the Florida mafia. Keep your eyes peeled for a mischievous Robert De Niro in an uncredited role.

Louis C.K. plays Richie’s FBI supervisor Stoddard Thorsen from Minnesota, who is losing control over the operation with only a never-ending ice fishing tale from his childhood to hold his agent's attention. Even Thorsen's superior, Anthony Amado, played with great comical timing by Alessandro Nivola, gets caught up in the glorious dangerous game because luring in congressmen and other public officials can be so much fun. The suitcases are filled with money, the women are glamorous and the rules are there to be tweaked.

Just as in Fritz Lang's M, criminal energy and good causes are fluid in this mercurial American Hustle.

Reviewed on: 11 Dec 2013
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American Hustle packshot
A con man is forced to work for a rogue FBI agent.
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Read more American Hustle reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray *****

Director: David O Russell

Writer: Eric Singer, David O Russell

Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Alessandro Nivola, Robert De Niro

Year: 2013

Runtime: 138 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

BIFF 2014

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