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:: American Hustle

At the moment director David O. Russell is Hollywood’s darling. It seems everything that he puts in his hands on becomes Oscar fodder. His movies like ‘The Fighter’ and ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ have garnished plenty of Oscar nods over recent years and actors of the calibre of Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo admit they owe their Oscars to him.

As a director the past has seen Russell fight with his main stars and even have people say they will never work with him again – for that reason it is surprising that he has worked with most of the cast of “American Hustle” before. That certainly being the case with Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.

This time around Russell focuses on actual events… albeit with some changed names and some poetic licence. An almost unrecognisable Christian Bale, complete with gut and hard-working comb over, plays Irving Rosenfeld a conman who lives a comfortable life making money before returning home to his strange wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and much loved son each night. Rosenfeld’s career as a con artist though really takes off after he meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who becomes his lover and partner-in-crime, although their new found scam soon comes to the attention of a desperate young law enforcement officer, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). DiMaso’s eagerness soon sees Sydney and Irving wrapped up in an –in-over-their-heads undercover sting designed to bring down community minded mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner).

Russell is somewhat of a frustrating director to watch. There are times during “American Hustle” when Russell eclipses perfection. The style, feel and plot of the film mirrors what Martin Scorsese has done so well over the years but the difference between the master and Russell is that Scorsese knows when to cull. Where the frustration seeps into “American Hustle” is that Russell will deliver a scene that leaves you gasping at its cinematic brilliance and then follow it up with a scene that should have found itself on the cutting room floor. That problem leads to bigger problems for the film. Firstly the running time of 128 minutes is way too long and then there is the problem that the audiences’ focus drifts in and out depending on the relevance of the scene. Having said that though “American Hustle” is a good film it just doesn't ever reach the greatness that it should.

What really saves “American Hustle” are the performances that Russell gets out of his cast. These are obviously actors that completely trust their director. How else could you explain Christian Bale going from Bruce Wayne to a man whose gut hangs over his trousers or the normally modest Amy Adams deciding to play a role where her cleavage is on show more often than not? To their credit though both actors deliver. Bale is his usual smooth self while Adams brings a brand of sexiness to the film that would be beyond most other actresses.

Then there are Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper’s performances. Russell just directed them amazingly in “Silver Linings Playbook” and he manages to repeat that here. Lawrence brushes aside those who label her as ‘the hunger games girl’ with her best performance since “The Winter’s Bone” while Cooper plays the manic yet immature DiMaso so well he creates one of the most interesting characters to ever hit the screen. Cudos should also go to Jeremy Renner who is also his usual brilliant self.

Despite its flaws “American Hustle” is still a film that demands a viewing. It’s good not great but it will be the film that everybody is talking about this holiday and awards seasons.