Every now and then you get a movie like American Hustle, with great design and direction, and a story that casts a harsh light on our shared shortcomings via a meticulously constructed plot with superb performances across the board.
It is just about flawless… and yet, I was nagged by the feeling that I had seen it all before.
Corruption, finding its way from the street (in this case a dry-cleaning business) to the highest public offices, is a favourite theme in contemporary American cinema. Con artists and adulterers, the mob and bent politicians, shonky cops, double-crosses and shifting moral sands – we’re possibly too familiar with the drill but are nevertheless thrilled to spend time among the demimonde.
David O Russell’s film departs notably from the standard MO in its almost complete lack of violence, a constant threat though it may be. Russell also employs more humour than is usual, bleak as it is.
Irving and Sydney (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) are working a smooth operation as loan sharks when ambitious Detective DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), stepping beyond his brief, ropes them into a scheme that is intended to ensnare Congressmen and big cheeses in the world of crime – Robert De Niro, in a fantastic cameo, plays Taleggio (an Italian cheese).
Deceit is every character’s default setting, and we are made aware of this from the opening minute as Irving stands before a mirror and painstakingly arranges his rug and comb-over. It’s a funny scene, but too much is made of the hair allegory, especially when DiMaso, sitting at a meal with his mother and fiance, is caught with his head covered in dozens of tiny rollers – I didn’t believe it and thought DiMaso, or Cooper’s reading of him, overdone in general.
The real star, in what occasionally resembles an Oscar contest, is Jennifer Lawrence, an actress of extraordinary range, as Rosalyn, Irving’s erratic wife.
It will probably win a load of awards, and deservedly so, but I couldn’t quite get past the ‘business as usual’ factor.
~ John Campbell