Crime and punishment, with '70s hair

Crime and punishment, with '70s hair

American Hustle
English (A) ¬¬¬¬
Director: David O Russell
Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner

That director David O Russell is an overbearing bully, prompting the kindly George Clooney to once throttle him on the set of Three Kings, is a story reasonably well known. What is probably less understood is the bewildering phenomenon whereby Russell can continue to attract sufficient talent to make compelling films.

If such a miracle is possible, then Russell has proved it with his latest film, the 1970s corruption caper, American Hustle, a cinematic triumph enabled by a lineup of serious actors.

Centered around the lives of two con-artistes, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), whose criminal apex lands them in an FBI trap, American Hustle is that gritty sort of crime drama whose spiritual ancestors are Casino (1995) and Donnie Brasco (1997). That Hustle, like its predecessors, is set in the seventies, gives the film a grimy, seminal-feel,like the trash-scarred streets of New York before they became overpopulated by department stores, boutique cafes and shiny respectability.
And where the theme of respectability is the skeleton which holds the muscle of American Hustle together, so is ambition.

Forced to work for an unscrupulous, rising bureau star, Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), Irving and Sydney are offered a deal: help the FBI to make four significant busts and they can go free. To their horror, however, the pair is drawn into a dangerous game of entrapping the New Jersey mafia, the mayor of Camden, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), and several United States congressmen. Low-lives, sure, but also people of character as it turns out.

Irving, under Bale’s deft portrayal as an overweight, grossly balding opportunist, shows himself as a man of conscience.

Unable to maintain the conspiracy against Carmine — a man so beloved by his family and the community that he transforms from another crooked politician into a saint (by New Jersey standards anyway), Irving wilfully sabotages the FBI operation. What follows is life without creative license.

Russell’s knack of stripping down plotting to its most elemental, allows his characters to show the cracks and imperfections of the human condition. Carmine does not shy away from a bribe if it will help him aid the community. Irving is in love with the idea of integrity even as he commits fraud and cheats on his wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). Richie is a man eager to make a name for himself at all costs and Sydney is a woman so appalled at herself that she creates an English aristocratic alter-ego, Edith.

Off all the words that American Hustle can be called, ordinary cannot be one of them. This is a dark film brought to life by its actors.

Amy Adams deserves every praise, as does Christian Bale. But the accolades should have been moderated when it comes to Lawrence, whose portrayal of Rosalyn can best be described as an extreme case of inadequacy. No doubt, Lawrence’s cat-faced charms help during award season.

American Hustle is not the product of a miracle. If art can ever be held up as a mirror to reality, Hustle is one of the few films which can be displayed as the pinnacle of this feat. If filmmaking should ever need a dose of total authenticity, David O Russell should be the first name on the list.

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