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American Hustle - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published December 14th 2013
Crime, Rock n Roll and Shiny Disco Balls
Director: David O Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter, Three Kings)
Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence)

American Hustle is the best 70's-set, epic length, star-studded ensemble piece focussing on a seedy underworld since Boogie Nights. Like that film, its a bravura piece of filmmaking with a wall to wall soundtrack of cult rock classics including an early ELO track as a particular stand-out.

american hustle
Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence are just part of the film's impressive ensemble.


David O Russell has lured back five actors that won or were nominated for Oscars in the last two films he directed, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook. They've been given 70s makeovers and all give memorable performances here.

Hustle is based on a true story, albeit with a little tweaking. For one, the names of those involved have been changed. Christian Bale, who lost a ridiculous amount of weight for The Mechanic and The Fighter has gone in the opposite direction and stacked on the pounds to play small time embezzler Irving Rosenfeld. His operation, and love life, kick into high gear when he meets Sydney Prosser, aka Lady Edith, played by Amy Adams. For a while they have a good thing going but after being arrested by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), the only way to avoid imprisonment is to play their part in an increasingly elaborate sting to ensnare corrupt politicians.

american hustle amy adams christian bale
Adams and Bale play partners in love and crime, Sydney Prosser and Irving Rosenfeld


It's a complex game of deceit and compromised loyalties which much of the time is played for laughs. Rosenfeld's loose canon wife, played brilliantly by Jennifer Lawrence, is a particular comic highlight. Her character is so clueless to the dangers around her, from nefarious types out to get her husband to literally the perils of misusing household appliances. All the while she flips from furious jealousy to self congratulatory triumph at seemingly getting what she wants.

As if the story wasn't juicy enough, Russell clearly revels in the trappings of the times. A scene on the dance floor of a popular nightclub just makes you want to transport yourself back to the disco era of the late 70s. Elsewhere, the camera drools over every audacious fashion statement on display.

Margaret Pomeranz has called this a "hair and tits movie". There is certainly plenty of cleavage and wild hair on display, and in the case Bradley Cooper, the two converge in the same place via his open necked shirts.

FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) and Rosenfeld (Bale) play morally ambiguous characters on both sides of the law.


Russell may play fast and loose with the details of the story, and don't even try to find a moral compass on either side of the law, yet despite the shadiness of the characters you can't help but enjoy their company and delight in the shifting plates their relationships are perched on.

This is an entertaining crime yarn dressed up in deliriously decadent clothing. Unlike the fashions of the day though, the film is likely to improve with age.



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Why? A dream cast given a 1970s makeover.
Where: At cinemas everywhere
Your Comment
I felt this was a bit over-rated & was too clever for its own good.....
by James Newcombe (score: 2|359) 1772 days ago
It certainly feels like an exercise in style over substance. I think it's a bit over-rated too, but still enjoyable.
by Richard Leathem (score: 2|132) 1772 days ago
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