Posts Tagged ‘Louis C.K’

American Hustle, the new film from David O’Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook), has ridden a wave of good press and nominations, both Golden Globe and now BAFTAs, owing to a stellar cast and string of good form from the director. Intriguingly, despite being billed from its trailers as a crime-thriller, based on the controversial late 70’s ABSCAM sting which imprisoned several US politians, it’s nominated in the best musical or comedy category at the Golden Globes and this is perhaps an important distinction to make in approaching this film.

For American Hustle is a riotously funny film, it’s tone arriving from the offset with the faux-disclaimer “Some of this actually happened”. This is due in no small part to its central players, each turning in excellent performances in what feels to be somewhat of a victory lap in first viewing, each enveloping their sleazy and seedy caricatures. Christian Bale dives head-first into his performance as Irving Rosenfeld, an overweight, balding, small-time con-man, working in the shadow of his accomplice and lover Sydney Prosser played by the always irrepressible Amy Adams. Elsewhere Bradley Cooper is excellent as the creepy and volatile FBI agent Richie DiMaso and Jennifer Lawrence practically lights up and steals every scene she’s in as Rosalyn, the obsessive housewife of Rosenfeld.

Much of the humour comes from a reportedly largely-improvised script, with highlights including a then primitive Microwave, here lovingly ascribed as a “Science Oven” given by Camden, New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) to Irving. Equally, cameos from Louis C.K as Bradley Cooper’s chief superior and Robert de Niro as mob boss Victor Tellegio lead to many brilliant scenes. C.K turns up his awkwardness ratchet as the nervous and frequently overpowered supposed superior of Cooper’s DiMaso and features a running joke between the two of a cheesy background fable which never gets completed.

At it’s most interesting, American Hustle is a film about performance. The characters are all cheats playing people that are bigger than their boots. Irving is actually reluctant to go too big with his operations, understanding that being a small-time operator conning desperate men out of their remaining 5k is enough to get by; but he knows how to play his role, shown in the opening shot of him delicately preparing his costume (comb-over), which we see repeatedly from each of the main characters.

This applies none more so, however, than to Adams’ Sydney Prosser, who creates an exotic allure in order to entice these desperate men under her power as Lady Edith Greensley of “British nobility”. Adams’ British accent is at once-convincing, but wavers as the narrative progresses, knowing that it will go largely unquestioned in seedy America. Comparatively the Mexican FBI agent Paco Hernandez (Michael Peña), employed to play the Sheik who’s “money” is the driving force of the plot, is intentionally less convincing. The decreasing quality of Sydney’s accent seems plausible in this story of acting, not just because of Adams’ strength as an actor, but because the film allows that doubt to exist.

The problem with American Hustle however, is that, while it has some powerhouse performances, much like Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, it in fact outweighs the film itself. While the initial set-up of the film is charming; Irving and Sydney’s blossoming sexual and professional relationship, Richie’s entrapment of them, Rosalyn’s neglect as a result of all of the above, the plot to entrap politicians and connected gangsters from taking bribes starts rolling, it begins to feel a little unfocused and lifeless.

As a result, tonally the film is a bit of a mess. While it remains highly amusing throughout, the emotional connection to any of these characters, bar perhaps Rosalyn, gets lost amongst the laughs. Once the film finally reaches its conclusion, for it is overly long, there is no real pay-off. The effect of seeing Sydney and Irving’s final plotting at work is largely dulled as the emotional connection and threat has disconnected. De Niro’s appearance is the only purveyor of any sense of danger for a brief time, but his motivations are unclear. Meanwhile  we are constantly told that Mayor Polito is acting for the good of the people, but the message is muddled in preachiness.

There’s a painful lack of back-story to truly engage with any of these characters, the largely pathetic Ritchie in particular, and though that may seem reasonable with con-men & women, there’s no real reason to care whether they succeed or fail at the films close. It’s a shame because, for all the excellent performances, soundtrack, costume and even the occasionally interesting but inconsistent cinematography, the film just feels a bit empty. Perhaps it is crucial the word American appears in the title, for this truly was an American scandal, and it’s effect, like Sydney’s accent, is lost in translation.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: