American Hustle review: Good fun but not worth 10 Oscar nominations

Deepanjana Pal

Mar 02, 2014 17:28:51 IST

It's got 10 nomination nods from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which makes you think David O Russell's new film American Hustle must be all kinds of awesome. Here's the good news and the bad news all rolled into one: American Hustle is good fun if you can distract yourself from the illogical bits by focusing on the wigs or gaping necklines of Amy Adams' outfits.

 American Hustle review: Good fun but not worth 10 Oscar nominations

The cast of American Hustle.

The year is 1978. Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) runs a few dry cleaning shops and a little conning operation. One day, at a party, he meets Sydney Posser (Amy Adams), an ex-stripper who is now working a clerical job at Cosmopolitan magazine. After a few dates and some canoodling in racks of dry cleaned clothes, Irving confides in Sydney that he's a con man. He takes a fee from people promising them bank loans that they won't actually get. Sydney's eyes gleam and she suggests that he add a partner to his game: herself posing as Lady Edith Greensley, a British aristocrat who is looking to invest her fictional millions.

If you discount the fact that Irving is a father and married to Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) while getting jiggy with Sydney in plush hotel rooms, then it's all going well for everyone until FBI agent Richard DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) bursts into this scene. Irving and Lady Edith are arm-twisted into working for the FBI by Richard, who wants to use these two con artists to bait the big fish. Soon enough, there's a Mexican pretending to be an Arab Sheikh, Jeremy Renner in a wig that makes him look like an out of work Elvis impersonator, Robert De Niro as an Arab-speaking mobster and other sleights of hand. Now Sydney wants to get out of this whole business. Rosalyn wants Irving to talk to her more. Richard wants to become the local legend in FBI. All the people who have met the fake Arab sheikh want money.

Will Irving be able to choose between Sydney and Rosalyn? Will Sydney, sorry Edith, leave Irving for Richard? Will Robert De Niro kill everyone? Can Irving come up with a plan that will get everyone what they want?

Russell gets the look of American Hustle just right with the production design, make up and cinematography. The crackling dialogue that Russell is famous for is in evidence and when the lines are delivered by actors like Bale and Lawrence, the film is great fun. The film wastes Louis CK and De Niro, who get a few scenes that are fun, but don't really have much to do.

Apparently, when De Niro came to shoot his first scene with Bale, he couldn't recognise Bale in his Irving make-up. You'll have a hard time recognising him too, disguised as Bale is with Irving's paunch, toupées, combovers and tinted glasses. The paunch, incidentally, is real. (Bale put on almost 20 kilos to do this role.)

Bale isn't the only one in the cast who had a makeover. Renner, who plays one of the FBI's targets, has a spectacular pompadour. Cooper's face is covered in a beard and his hair is in tight curls. Lawrence has a pile of blond hair and lurid make up to make her look like a crazy housewife from the 1970s. But Lawrence and Bale are the two who make their looks seem natural, rather than an act. Bale, on whose overweight persona the entire film rests, is magnificent as Irving, the grumpy conman who is a combination of arrogance, insecurity, ambition and a peculiar but endearing brand of integrity.

Lawrence is outstanding as Rosalyn. She captures Rosalyn's bitterness, rage and vulnerability in high-strung behaviour that's carefully pitched to never become melodramatic. Rosalyn bristles with wit and desperation, making you laugh even as sadness closes in on her. The scene in which Lawrence dusts the house while headbanging to "Live and Let Die" is unforgettable.

It's mystifying how no one pointed out Oscar-nominated Adams's completely unconvincing British accent. Of course, the accent is meant to be fake — she's a small town American girl; what does she know about British aristocracy, seems to be the justification — but it's difficult to believe such a patently American twang could pass of for British to anyone, particularly the FBI. Barring that not-so-tiny detail, Adams delivers a performance that's like heady cocktail — smooth, sensuous and, as far as Irving and Richard are concerned, guaranteed to leave them aching.

Unfortunately, logic leaves the room entirely too often in American Hustle. The plot that's supposed to hook the big guys is barely credible and too little of the reasoning and motivations are worked out clearly. It doesn't make sense that two small-time con artists would be able to vault themselves into the big league so easily. No one asks about Irving, no one's heard of his past frauds even though he's got arrested by the FBI. Halfway into the film, Richard seems to go entirely crazy, either because he's driven to distraction by his ambition or his lust. Whatever it is, it doesn't entirely add up.

The final con is very entertaining but the end of American Hustle is just too neat to be properly satisfying. In the pursuit of the American dream, however, perhaps logic isn't as important as having fun.

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Updated Date: Mar 02, 2014 17:50:28 IST