American Hustle15 ¦ Blu-ray, DVD
There was a time when American director David O. Russell was happily doing his own thing on the other side of mainstream Hollywood, making quirky films such as 1996's Flirting with Disaster and 2004's I Heart Huckabees. And then The Fighter happened in 2010, which made an impression with the Academy and picked up two Oscars. His next film, Silver Linings Playbook also managed to win a golden statue (it garnered eight nominations overall, but it was Jennifer Lawrence who won in the Best Actress category). This meant that Russell had finally arrived by Hollywood standards and that his work hereon in was now up for greater scrutiny. No pressure then.
Instead of crumbling like a crumbly crumble, Russell has risen to the challenge with impressive aplomb with this retro con artists feature.
The US of A may well be known as the land of opportunity, but it rarely comes knocking at your door excitedly and jumping into your lap. For Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), New York in the seventies means that they're prepared to make their own opportunities, even if it means doing so by illegal means.
The pair become a team of con artists and Sydney even takes on a new identity, becoming British aristocrat Lady Edith Greensly in order to help reel in their prospective marks and make a buck or two.
They do pretty well at it, too. Maybe too good, as their actions soon appear on the FBI's radar – namely, that of agent Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper). Instead of arresting them he decides that he could use their particular skills to lure in even bigger fish, in the shape of unscrupulous politicians and their like who would be partial to a bribe or two.
Although Irving is uncomfortable with the prospect of working for the Feds neither he nor Sydney have much choice, so it's not long before they all get their con on. But who's conning who, exactly?
This director has always attracted talent but it appears that he's keen to work with talent he has an existing relationship with. The majority of the major cast here he has previous with: Cooper, Lawrence and De Niro return from their recent work on Silver Linings Playbook, whilst Bale and Adams reunite with the director from their days on The Fighter. And when you see them on screen it's no wonder he likes working with them, as boy do they deliver.
Russell, who also co-wrote the script, has produced a film that initially looks like a con film but is actually far more intricate than that. The central con takes second place to the characters within it. There is a richness to the main players that is, sadly, rarely seen these days. There's a tangible depth, radiating in particular from the characters assuredly portrayed by Adams, Cooper and Bale, that makes for compelling viewing throughout.
As you would expect from Bale, thankfully free from the obvious restraints of a bat cowl, he flexes his considerable acting talent with obvious ease. That said, Cooper and Adams keep up with him all the way so that not one individual is a scene stealer. That said, Lawrence comes close: despite being mostly on the periphery of the action she makes a vivid impact whenever she pops up as Irving's wife Rosalyn.
And then there's Russell's direction; it resonates with Scorsese at his best, not only evoking an era so sharply (the film could have been sponsored by Instagram with its retro filter shining on proceedings) but populating it with an array of fascinating and absorbing individuals.
Despite an incredibly impressive ten nominations for Oscar gold, the film was robbed - somewhat ironically giving the film's criminal theme - of any win. Sure, it was one of the most competitive fields in recent years, but it deserved a statue or two.
Regardless, Russell flexes his cinematic muscle once again, proving that he's by no means a hustler behind the camera; he's most definitely the real deal.