“Some of this actually happened” says the annoyingly ambiguous opening credits.
Fitting, as the “this” that follows is a thoroughly entertaining, equally ambiguous mess of Interesting characters amidst several Scorsese-aping narrative arcs.
1970s New York. Bronx businessman Irving Rosenfeld (A rotund Christian Bale) and Sydney (Amy Adams) fall in love amidst an uncontrollable web of small time cons and extortion.
As the cons spiral out of control the pair struggle to deal with the complications that come with living multiple lives (amongst them is Jennifer Lawrence’s Rosalyn, Irving’s wife). Irving and Sydney are offered a clean slate by eager FBI agent Richie (Bradley Cooper) if they take down a corrupt New Jersey Mayor (Jeremy Renner).
An incredible cast. And they have their work cut out with a frenetic narrative as confused as the faux-Scorsese pop soundtrack which accompanies the action.
Like the jazz of Duke Ellington in the opening scenes, American Hustle swings from a post watergate politics exposé, to a Led Zep and Bowie sounded DeNiro mob flick back to a Blondie, Wings and Elton John Boogie Nights-esque love story.
“I’m so confused right now” says Richie as he discovers Sydney’s second life. He’s not the only one, as mid-way through the film descends into comic-farce, the character’s motive’s so clouded we have no idea of their stance as each scene begins.
A disjointed narrative usually means a mass audience switch off slash snooze-fest. Instead coupled with the strength of the performances this confusion lends an irrepressible energy to the action, and you can’t help being swept up in it all.
Bale is brilliant as charismatic comb-over king Irving. Adams plays little-girl-lost Sydney with the perfect blend of fragility and sexual confidence, intentionally surrendering her fake English accent as her mask starts to slip.
Cooper does well as the the cocksure, out of his depth agent, and Renner brings a sheepish naivety to Mayor Carmine. Brilliant supporting roles for Michael Peña and comedian Louis C.K, and even a cameo from Robert DeNiro further enhance its casting credentials.
It’s astounding that amongst this sea of talent Jennifer Lawrence is able to stand out as Irving’s troubled wife Rosalyn. Either emitting infantile rage or manipulating the men as the films femme fatale, Lawrence cements her status as Hollywood’s most exciting young actress.
While unfortunately not as slick as the great modern crime films of Scorsese, De Palma et al, American Hustle’s strength lies in its creation of fascinating characters, something of a rarity at the cinema these days.