American Hustle (2013)

American Hustle is receiving a fair bit of positive publicity and punditry. David O. Russell co-writes and directs a top-notch cast in this 70’s flashback piece which feels a bit like The Sting meets Saturday Night Fever. The opening scene has a wonderfully made-up Christian Bale, playing serial hustler Irving Rosenfeld, getting dressed and attending carefully to his comb-over. The chubby Irving has a gravitas that not only cons his marks but draws the attraction of Sydney Prosser – aka Lady Edith Greensley (a decidedly saucy Amy Adams). Together they become the Bonnie-and-Clyde of the hustling world, depriving desperate loan-seekers of their limited cash. Their success quickly draws the attention of the FBI in the guise of complete muppet, Richie DeMaso (Bradley Cooper) who blackmails them into helping him catch bigger baddies. Phew. So we are off in what bodes to be quite a giggle – very 70s and very over the top in terms of hair, make-up and clothes – bringing in Rosenfeld’s missus (Jennifer Lawrence, doing a ridiculously over-hyped turn of Wings’ Live and Let Die).

It’s all very charming and even a few titters in a film which you hope won’t take itself too seriously. Sadly, it does end up its own arse in short order. Individually, the actors are fabulous – funny and believable. Bradley Cooper is great as the idiotic, wannabe FBI guy who can’t quite avoid screwing up the carefully planned hustles of Bale and Adams. Jeremy Renner merits a mention as the hapless politician who becomes the target of DeMaso’s sting. Unfortunately, the plot is obvious far too early into the piece, and then drags on self-importantly. An empty-headed script, which is almost an hour overlong at 138 minutes, produces a costume piece that is well played and looks great, but ultimately fails to entertain. Quite why O. Russell’s oeuvre is getting so much attention and leads this year’s Oscar nominations is a mystery. Do check out any snippets that appear on YouTube, though, just to see those wonderful hair-dos and costumes, but avoid the cinema and DVD. The whole of American Hustle is not equal to the sum of its (hair-)pieces.