Tuesday, 24 December 2013

American Hustle

David O Russell has come out all guns blazing in the new feisty vision of a film he calls American Hustle.  Using an elaborate and elusive storytelling style, American Hustle is about as entertaining as cinema gets. The film is put simply a fictional representation of true events. It dramatises the infamous FBI ABSCAM operation. In the 1970s the FBI launched an elaborate sting operation which resulted in the arrest of no less than 7 politicians all in public office. What Russell has really taken on for the premise of his film is the involvement of con artist Melvin Weinberg (renamed Irving Rosenfield in the film). Weinberg avoided a 3 year prison sentence by assisting in the investigation.

Here, Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale) and his mistress Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) along with fervent FBI agent, Richie Dimaso, are shown as the brains behind the ambitious operation that was ABSCAM. The con-artist and his partner in crime, the perfect image of a 70s Bonnie and Clyde, are coerced into helping in the operation after being caught out by the FBI agent. An elaborate plan is formed by the group, stakes are raised after the (unintentional) involvement of mobsters and sympathy and guilt comes into play, complicating matters further. And finally, Irving's neurotic trumpeter of a wife, Roselyn (Jennifer Lawrence) threatens the entire investigation.

In a time when gross-out humour (Bridesmaids, The Hangover, Jackass) dominates the film industry, the comedic elements of American Hustle really are quite refreshing. An easy division can be identified in this film. Amy Adams brings the glamour and the smooth graces, Jennifer Lawrence the bulk of the humour, Robert De Niro - that extra punch of intensity and Bradley Cooper transcends a kind of inadequacy that is deliciously pathetic yet relatable.

The scenes which incorporated both Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence were no doubt the most groundbreaking in the film. I could not help but notice the glaringly obvious contrast between the two actresses. Amy Adams' performances can generally be characterised as simple yet dense and rather conventional. Lawrence's powerhouse performances, by some contrast, encompass incredible depth. A single facial expression can bring comic relief to a film which seems - at times - to forget its satirical elements. When thrown together in a scene - the result is most surprising. She, and Bradley Cooper, I noticed were appropriately placed in roles which somewhat mirrored their Silver Linings Playbook characters. Perhaps recognising that portraying impulsive, deranged beings was a special skill shared by both actors, Russell saw value in casting these respective roles.

The sentimental aspects of the film are fleeting and never fleshed out. As soon as any sympathy is felt for any such character - O. Russell quickly reminds the viewer of their irritating qualities. Perhaps this is the director's way of "keeping it real" - believing that anything too trite would betray the authenticity of his precious candid characters. However - here Russell risks having his characters dangerously unlikeable. Although this means no audience member of any of his films will ever have to worry about experiencing an aloof character. Each of his characters is an uncomfortable, all too familiar reminder of the flaws in ourselves.

I never hesitate in admitting the preference I have of the charm and easy grace of Woody Allen films, to the complex, convoluted issues of a compromised world as presented by David O. Russell.  Woody Allen has talent in finding and providing the simple truths in any situation. Perhaps it is personal preference, rather than a critical appraisal talking here. Nevertheless, I do reserve a large amount of respect for a director whose guidance of his cast is unquestionably and consistently spot-on.


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