Thursday, 30 January 2014

August: Osage County (15)

There is, occasionally, a problem in transferring a play from the stage to celluloid.

Carnage back in 2011 suffered from this, feeling exactly like you were watching a play rather than watching a film.

August: Osage County at least feels like it is a film, but there are other aspects of the production that leap out and remind you that this was previously on the boards and came with an interval and ice cream.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the start. Or scene one, if you will.

Written by Tracy Letts (who also handled screenplay duties), August tells the story of a family brought together by tragedy, who then have to face some home truths and get airs cleared.

Starring, among others, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Sam Shepard, Chris Cooper and the wonderful Margo Martindale, the action basically takes place in a house - with the odd break for a toddle in the garden.

And the performances are stunning.

Dermot Mulrooney aside (he's essentially playing Dermot Mulrooney), there's not a bad apple in the whole barrel, and as laughter and tears flow freely you're enrapatured and convinced.

And in places it is very funny - in particular Chris Cooper saying Grace; Elsewhere, heartbreaking and poignant.

But it's clear very early on that Letts likes a Tennessee Williams play or three - and this becomes more apparant as the film goes on.

Along with many a mention of the heat, there are sections of dialogue that just seem to leap from a Williams text.

I'm not suggesting plagarism, but the tone, rhythm and style all have his DNA in them.

Now, this may work well on the stage (and the success of the play suggests it certainly does), but it's a step too far to try and shoe-horn such word-heavy passages into a more contemporary format.

It may not bother everyone, of course.

A bigger issue is the direction.

Handled by John Wells (whose only other film was the disappointing The Company Men), you are left with a feeling that you get the over-view but no detail.

There are times when you really want to be in close - especially when Roberts and Streep and going at it hammer and tongs - but you are kept at a distance. The same distance from which you watch three sisters trying to reconnect.

What should be passionate, touching scenes are left feeling slightly cold. Which is a shame.

I also have an issue with the continuity (watch this and keep an eye on Streep's disappearing ciggies), but I fear this is starting to get a bit negative.

While there are problems with this film, the look of it is great and the performances - as I may have mentioned - are excellent.

Roberts as the elder sister, Lewis and Julianne Nicholson as her siblings, Benedict Cumberbatch as the cousin, Ewan McGregor as Roberts' estranged hubbie - they are all brilliant and faultless.

But for every high, there seems to be a low, which takes the edge off a tad and leave you wishing you'd seen this lot performing August: Osage County on the stage.

Inside Llewyn Davis (15)

No matter what it is they do, a Cohen brothers' film is always going to garner interest and attention.

Like Neil Young, you might not like everything they produce, but you sure want to see what it is they've done this time round.

From the sublime (No Country For Old Men) to the misjudged (The Ladykillers) to the audience-splitters (The Big Lebowski is either loved or hated), the Cohens never fail to garner a reaction.

Inside Llewyn Davis, it seems, falls in the third camp. At least for the rest of the world.

Sitting here now, writing this, I'm still not sure what I think about it - which is not a reaction I'm used to when watching something these two have produced.

The story of a down-at-heel folk singer (played by Oscar Isaac), struggling to come to terms with the death of his band partner and his failing solo career is at times darkly funny, but overall feels shallow and insignificant.

Which is probably the one thing I wasn't expecting to feel.

A lot has been written about how unlikeable Davis is, but that's not something I had an issue with - there are clear reasons for his behaviour, and while he may be an unmitigated arse you can kind of cut him some slack.

A lot has also been written about the cat - with some claiming it's symbolic of the life Davis is struggling to cope without and the career he is trying to make on his own.

On the surface at least, it's a handy comic device which also serves to garner sympathy for a man who pisses everyone off as he moves from couch to couch. A sympathy the Cohens do away with two-thirds of the way through the film.

It could, of course, just be a cat.

But it's not the cat, or the story, that causes me problems with this film - both are great and work well. It's the other characters.

Carey Mulligan (playing Jean, who has a complicated relationship with Davis) and Jon Goodman (playing a jazz musician) both do well with the little they're given - the characters are just not well drawn enough.

Carey's angry character gives us no reason to like her, and her dialogue is staggeringly unconvincing, while Goodman's Roland Turner just seems to be an overblown cliche.

Both of which chip away at your connection to the film.

The one character who seems well-conceived is Davis himself, with everyone else merely window dressing.

But I'm beginning to think this is a deliberate conceit rather than poor storytelling.

One huge plus for this film, of course, is the music - with Please Mr Kennedy a particular highlight - and it's the use of the music, and the setting of all this in the blossoming New York folk scene of the early 60s, that makes me think the Cohens might be up to something.

Like folk songs themselves, this film feels flimsy, almost overtly whimsical, with first impressions not always favourable.

But like any good song - folk or otherwise - the more you think about it, or even re-visit it, the more you get out of it.

I started writing this review still unsure as to what I thought of Inside Llewyn Davis, yet as I've been hamming at the ol' keyboard more thoughts and views have come to mind.

I think I like it a lot more than I first thought.

I know I want to watch it again.

And I like the cat.

It's not a Cohen classic by any means, but I think there's more going on here than appears on the surface (again, much like a really good folk song).

Of course, that could all be cobblers and the Cohens are just having a laugh at everyone else's expense. Let's not rule that out.

But I'll be watching it again. Just to double check.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Wolf Of Wall Street (18)

There's two things that need saying about The Wolf Of Wall Street before we start - first, no wolves are featured; second, it's three hours long.

Three hours. Three. Whole. Hours.

And it feels it two. Suddenly The Hobbitsis could qualify for a short film award.

And the length of the film is an important factor here - and not just because of what else you could do in that time (drive to Scotland from my house for example).

It's because - at twice the length of a 'normal' film - there is a point in Wolf where it suddenly feels like another movie. And it comes half way through.

The shift in tone is so marked, I actually sat up. And I kept waiting for it to return to the brash, loud, busy glorious mess of the first half.

Only it didn't.

Which was a shame, because the first half is a blast.

Telling the story (based on the swindler's own book) of Jordan Belfort, a man who found a way to make a lot of money selling crap stocks, Wolf lifts the lid on how money was being made.

And he made a LOT before the Feds caught up with him.

And that's really what the first half of the film is all about - Belfort's rise up the greasy Wall Street pole.

And even though you know he's a shyster, you kinda like him - which is entirely down to Leonardo DiCaprio's performance.

Mixing laughter with humanity, the corruption of an innocent young man with a dream is both believable and emotional.

Yes, he screws up. Yes, he screws other people. Yes, he snorts and swallows everything he can get his hands on, but because the film is basically shouting PARTY at you, you go with it.

And the tone and feel of the film is great during the first half - it races along, it's loud, everyone shouts, shags, sniffs and snorts their way to making millions at other people's expense.

And then (without giving too much away), a conversation happens on a boat.

And immediately, it all changes.

Scenes are longer, conversations are longer, the pace is slower, and you start to shift in your chair.

The party is over it seems.

While the first half of Wolf is about how to become rich, the second half is about how to stay rich and not get sent to jail.

And here's where the problems arise.

Having warmed to Belfort (even though you know you shouldn't), he becomes unlikeable (again, all credit to Leo for this) - his arrogance coming to the fore.

Which wouldn't be a problem if you were given more to work with on the side of those trying to bring the self-appointed wolf down.

But you aren't.

They're just The Man doing His Job. Yes, you get a glimpse into the character of Agent Denham (played well by Kyle Chandler), but not enough to really root for him.

But then, he's not really in it enough either.

By hanging the whole story on Belfort's exploits, the film is going to stand and fall on how the audience deal with his exploits - and as he never thinks he's doing anything wrong, it gets harder and harder to root for him as the film goes on.

Case in point - there's an accident late on, and I didn't give a monkey's who survived. I was past caring.

I kinda get why it's as long as it is - the excess of the period, the 'gotta have it all - gotta do it all' attitude that went unregulated is mirrored in a film that aims to show you everything without any sense of being edited.

But that doesn't make it a great film (the Oscar nod is baffling when All Is Lost has been ignored).

It's brilliantly performed (the main cast is brilliant, and Joanna Lumley's in it), and well filmed, but in trying to capture the excesses of one man, something is lost.

There are judgements on Wall Street and officials, but these are handled so lightly as to not really trouble the overall themes - which are, that with money, you can do what you want.

Which may be the point director Martin Scorsese was trying to make - but it would have felt less grubby if he'd made it clear that was a negative rather than a positive.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

All Is Lost (12A)

Occasionally, Cineworld do a good thing. Something so good you could almost hug the manager.

Late last year, All Is Lost popped up and then, ironically, seemed to sink without trace. Then, low and behold, there it is in Sheffield.

And this is something that, at the end of a pretty crappy week, has put a spring back in my step.

Now I know a film about one man in a boat isn't going to be everybody's cup of desalinated sea water, but when that man is Robert Redford, and the writer director is J.C. "Margin Call' Chandor...

I know some people have said All Is Lost is Life Of Pi without Richard Parker, but it's not. It's so much more than that.

If it's going to be likened to anything, it should be likened to Gravity. Only in a boat, obviously.

Also, before I start waxing lyrical, let's be clear from the outset - while short, this film is slow paced, and some people (podcast listeners will know who I mean) will claim nothing happens.

Cobblers is my considered response.

I'll be honest, cast anyone other than Redford as Our Man and this film could easily have slipped into nothingness.

Instead, from the opening scenes of water lapping around his cabin bed, Redford just owns the screen.

There's no competition, no acting off anyone, no reacting to lines being delivered - there's just Redford, a boat, a life raft and the open sea.

And it's mesmerising.

He is so believable, so entrancing, that when Our Man stumbles or falls you find yourself going to catch him. When he's struggling to light a flare, it's all you can do NOT to shout at the screen.

The filming of All Is Lost is as equally as good as Redford's performance (another ball dropped by the Oscar numpties), shifting effortlessly between the darkened cabin, the airy deck and the sun-baked life raft (we know it's a life raft, because when it's dropped down it says so in big letters).

But the piece de resistance is the sound.

Subtle orchestration keeps you afloat during the more peaceful moments, but when the drama starts increasing everything is left to the ambient sound - the creak of a boat, the distant rumble of a storm.

This works so well, you'll find your heart skipping a beat before you've twigged what's happening. And just because some wood creaked.

Now, as I said earlier, All Is Lost has been likened to Life Of Pi - which is wrong on many levels.

For a start, All Is Lost works sublimely in 2D. No need for oars to poke out at the audience here.

Also, the level of believability is so high, adding tigers (real or imaginary) would capsize the whole thing. There's no need for stripy metaphors or people in Our Man's head. He's too busy trying to stay afloat after hitting a stray container.

And that's why this film has far more in common with Gravity - one person fighting for survival following events beyond their control.

Only on water, obviously.

And if nothing else, the water is the reason Redford should be up for a gong. By the end of the film, he's been soaked so often it's a miracle he hasn't shrunk.

Given that he's no spring chicken, to see him thrown into the drink on so many occasions just gives more respect for this performance.

I'd even go as far as to suggest it could be his finest.

Remember, there's just him. No one else. Yet, through subtle touches and even subtler actions, you feel you know exactly who Our Man is from the off.

Which is why you are rooting for him.

While Bullock was given the time (and space, eh? Eh? Really? No one?) to explain her character's back story, Redford has just wardrobe, props and his face. That's it.

And he bloody nails it.

So often you chase a film down, desperate to see something you believe to be special, only to find it was a bit 'meh'.

With All Is Lost, high expectations were exceeded to such an extent I may move into Sheffield's Cineworld for the next few days just to watch it endlessly on repeat.

My one regret is not seeing it before the end of 2013 because THIS would have been my film of the year.

(PS - just watched the trailer again. My heart is now racing. Again.)

Sunday, 12 January 2014

The Devil's Bargain

Social media is a wonderful thing - one minute you're watching a video of a cat, the next a friend is offering you the chance to review this film he's worked on.

Now, normally, a free viewing and we're there quicker than Richard Parker on a mouse, but this is someone I 'know' (it's Facebook, I've never met him, but he knows where I post).

Which presents something of a problem - what if it's terrible?

You see, take something like Movie43. We all know that was terrible, but one can pull that apart with gay abandon because the chances of ever bumping into Richard Gere (OK, bad choice, he's almost admitted it was a mistake) or such are minimal.

You're not likely to meet the person you've berated is my point.

But with a low-budget indie flick? Brought to the world by internet buddies? OK, deep breath...

You see, joking aside, I was genuinely afraid of this film being bad. And not just because I'm a coward.

Someone has got their stuff together, pulled together the money, cast and crew and gone and made a film. For that alone we should applaud.

And I don't want to be the one to say 'actually guys...', because no one wants to be the one who pricks someone else's balloon. Well, not unless you're Iain Duncan Smith.

Fortunately, that's not going to be a problem.

Set in 1974, on the day the world is about to end, The Devil's Bargain follows Adi (Jonnie Hurn) and Ange (Chloe Farnworth) as they return to the scene of past happiness to await armageddon.

All goes swimmingly until the sinister Luca (Dan Burman) turns up, at which point Adi and Ange's world starts to fall apart. And well before the world actually ends. If you follow.

All of this is played out with a back-drop in the form of Fintan Ryder (AJ Williams), an omnipresent DJ broadcasting for one last time - his ponderings, musings and readings providing timely insertions to the madness.

(This also brought to mind the Shooter Jennings album Black Ribbons, featuring Stephen King as a DJ broadcasting til the station is taken from under him. No, I know you haven't heard of it, but that's not my fault. You should have.)

Now, going by the poster, I was kind of expecting a horror film. And I sort of got one, but not in the modern, 'limbs flying every, people screaming' sense.

Far from it.

The Devil's Bargain has its roots firmly in the Hammer house, sparing the blood but layering the psychological tension and parallels between biblical and real life revelations.

There's also the same attitude to nudity that Hammer used to enjoy, only this doesn't feel seedy and exploitative, and is shared equally around the cast.

There are also parallels to draw with last year's Midnight Son, with the same steady pacing being used to slowly build the tension to great effect.

And that's where The Devil's Bargain is at its best, slowly revealing the dirt beneath the surface of this failing artist and his hippy bride.

As the story unfolds, you are drawn further and further in, the warm colourings and use of sunlight cushioning you from what is to come.

OK, sure, you know who Luca is when he turns up, but that just adds a certain level of glee as he persuades Ange to share his apple.

It looks visually arresting and is wonderfully styled, but all of that counts for bog all if you've got three tailor's dummies on screen.

Fortunately, in both Dan and Jonnie, writer/director Drew Cullingham has two people who perfectly encapsulate their roles.

Jonnie's trips between grief, love and anger are fluid and believable, while Dan delivers just the right amount of gleeful chaos.

Not sure he'd have been wearing that T-shirt in 1974, but given just how much Drew has got right here we'll have to trust him.

My only real issue (occasional clunky dialogue aside), sadly, is with Chloe Farnworth. While her male co-stars shine, at times she comes across as reciting lines rather than delivering a performance.

That said, however, her final scenes are excellent. (No I'm not saying what they are - you'll have to watch it).

The Devil's Bargain keeps you enthralled as you await the end of the world, with twists and revelations to keep you guessing as the biblical references whizz around your head like rotten apples.

Coming at half a Hobbit as well, it's not a film that outstays its welcome.

It'll make you think, it'll keep you in your seat, but if none of that grabs you (and it should) you can enjoy the wonderful use of sunlight.

With so much crap being flung out by Hollywood these days (don't rule out a Grown Ups 3), it's refreshing and uplifting to find an indie flick that is bold, eye-catching and so bloody enjoyable.

* Normally we'd have the trailer for this as well, but we're a family friendly place and the official trailer has flashes of naughty bits - so enjoy a video of Richard Parker drinking out of  tap instead, and then go find the trailer on YouTube...

(The Devil's Bargain will be available to watch online from Friday)

12 Years A Slave (15)

There has been a buzz around this film for months, with the world and his mistress telling anyone who will listen just how stunning a film it is.

But we've heard it all before right? These things just set the film up to fail, no?

No. Not this time.

You see, this time, they're right.

Telling the tale of one Solomon Northup, an upstanding member of his New York community and a fine musician, Slave takes us through the harrowing details of when Solomon was kidnapped.

Based on the man's own book, we are shown - in explicit detail - how human beings were traded as animals, treated worse than animals, and how one man managed to find his way back to his family (this is hardly a spoiler, given he couldn't have written the book while working the cotton fields).

But don't be lulled into thinking this is some schmaltzy Hallmark gubbins - it's anything but.

The violence the slaves suffered, the arrogance and hatred of their "owners" is laid bare in brutal detail, with people whipped with such severity you feel guilty for watching.

So why watch it, I hear you mutter. Doesn't sound like it's going to be fun...

Well, strangely, it is.

OK, not fun, but it's gripping, enthralling, captivating, beautifully shot and there's not a bad performance in the whole damn thing.

Most of this is down to Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose performance in the title role is nothing short of spellbinding.

He not only captures the struggle and bewilderment of Solomon perfectly, but also brings to the fore such passion and humanity you feel you've picked alongside him under the Southern American sun.

Having, reportedly, not been keen on taking the part, you watch him knowing no one else could have done this. No one else could have made you feel for Solomon the way he has - and he deserves every award that is set to litter his bookshelves in the coming months.

But he's not shining amongst a bunch of no-marks, oh no.

His performance is further highlighted by just how good his co-stars have to be to keep up.

Michael Fassbender is brilliantly brutal as Edwin Epps, the farm owner who becomes the final owner of Solomon, while Brad Pitt is wonderfully understated as the only man who actually tries to help Mr Northup.

Then there's Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamati, Sarah Paulson and Lupia Nyong'o - who, going by this film debut performance, is set for a seriously HUGE career.

But it's not all about the performances.

I mean, it is, sure, but it takes a delicate hand to tackle this story and this many stars and bring to the screen such a balanced, heartbreaking, uplifting yet harrowing tale.

Which Steve McQueen has done.

In only his third feature film (although let's not forget the plaudits his first two, Shame and Hunger, received), McQueen has produced a work of simple brilliance.

Not only does Slave look beautiful, but he brings the drama and cruelty to the fore in a way which is emotionally devastating.

Yes, the violence is strong - but that's what happened back then. McQueen isn't revelling in it, he's laying it bare to make the point that certain members of the human race were lacking in humanity.

And that's the point of this film - that this actually happened. A free man was kidnapped and sold into slavery and there was nothing he could do about it.

Like Long Walk To Freedom, this is a story that needs telling. But unlike the Mandela biopic you don't come out of it feeling you've been smashed over the head by the very book the film is based on.

No, this isn't an 'easy' film to watch - the beatings are bloody and frequent, and hangings happen more often than you'd like to know about.

But if you aren't at the very least slightly damp around the eyes by the end, having gone on this incredible journey, then there's no hope for you...

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom (12A)

Sweet mother... I haven't struggled with a review like this for some time. Still, deep breath, here we go...

You see, while I don't want to appear dismissive of a film dealing with such a worthwhile subject and man, several hours after watching I still feel as if there was something missing.

The easiest way to describe it is to draw a parallel with Invictus (the 2009 biopic staring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon), which left me feeling more uplifted.

But let's start with the positives here.

In Idris Elba (as Nelson) and Naomie Harris (Winnie), Long Walk has two actors who dominate the show, bringing passion and belief to the screen - with Elba almost making you forget Freeman played him.

Played Mandela, that is, not Idris Elba.

And it looks stunning, with sweeping panoramic shots of Mandela's homeland contrasting brilliantly with the townships he was forced to live in during the struggle for equality.

And it's the struggle that comes across loud and proud.

Make no mistake, this is not an easy watch. You can't spend any length of time in the company of this movie without getting angry at the way the white minority treated the indigenous population in South Africa.

The violence, the vile treatment - it's all here, interspersed with historical footage of coverage of some of the worst massacres.

What also comes across well is how events shaped the two main characters in very different ways.

While certain Western leaders were keen to label Mandela a terrorist, Long Walk shows us it was the actions of the ruling white minority that led him to take more drastic, direct action.

It's the same with Winnie.

Her public persona is not a kind one, with history painting her as a woman who went off the rails while Nelson was locked away on Robben Island.

But what we learn from Long Walk is how her treatment at the hands of the ruling elite (she was in solitary confinement for 18 months in a bid to break the drive for equality) shaped her. Previously she was happy to support her husband, but after her treatment she was hell bent on revenge.

And, in all honesty, it's hard to blame her. Suffer 18 months of physical and mental abuse while your children are looked after by someone else and see how you react.

And it's this treatment that, for me, provides the stand-out moment in the film.

On her release, Winnie gives a brief speech outside her home - a speech delivered with such belief by Harris that it gave me goosebumps.

Sadly, such emotional high points are few and far between.

While the film recounts an important piece of history, carrying a message that still stands today,  it does so at too steady a pace.

A really, really steady pace. Remember how Lincoln never got out of second gear? That.

OK, it's stating the obvious to say that Mandela's life was light on laughs before he became president - but there is no respite here in the endless anger, fighting and struggle.

I'm not saying - and let's be very clear about this - that they should have rewritten history to make a comedy of the whole thing, far from it - this is, as I've said already, an important piece of history that needs documenting.

Invictus, by comparison, is uplifting - particularly the piece about the poem he read every day in his cell.

OK, Long Walk couldn't cite that - the poem's title was used in the other film after all - but what it does is show us how he somehow grew spiritually while on Robben Island.

What Long Walk tells us is that his time in incarceration didn't break him. Which is not the same thing.

And at two hours 20 minutes, you come out of this feeling like you've not only read the whole of Long Walk To Freedom, but been repeatedly hit over the head by it.

Despite this, Long Walk is still a great film with - as I may have mentioned - two stunning portrayals at its heart.

It certainly deserves its 'epic' tag, and you can guarantee the Oscar judges are going to be all over this - and deservedly so.

But while it is a film of great performances, for me it is not a great film.

* Popcorn postcript:

Having gone back to see it again (not my idea, granted), it is a better film on second viewing.

Still too many questions about how his time on Robben Island shaped him (how did he not follow the same path as Winnie, given we're shown nothing but the oppressive control he was under?) and how did a man of war become a man of peace?

And why the hell is Bono singing at the end?

But the central performances are still stunning (even if they do dominate to the detriment of the rest of the cast), and it still looks beautiful.

PS: One trailer I've seen is painting Long Walk To Freedom as a tense, political thriller with guns and chases galore. It's not that film. Yes, there are guns, and explosions, and people running about. But it's NOT that film.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

American Hustle (15)

The problem with making a highly successful film like, say, Silver Linings Playbook, is that at some point people are going to want you to make another one.

But what to do? Repeat the formula? Try something totally different? How about sticking to the comedy drama mix but going back to the 70s?


Of course, it helps if you've already got a cast that have worked together before (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence were both in Silver Linings), so all you've got to add is a few quality ingredients to the mix - in this case Jeremy Renner, Amy Adams and Christian Bale.

To name a few.

If you've missed the hype, the buzz or the trailers (and all have been everywhere), Hustle is a 70s comedy-drama dealing with an FBI bid to bring down corrupt officials using a couple of experienced con artists.

What could go wrong, eh?

Now, obviously, there are going to be comparisons with Silver Linings (some dimwit on Radio 4 was complaining recently that Hustle wasn't as 'manic' as Playbook - there's a reason for that...), but there shouldn't be.

American Hustle should be allowed to stand alone. It's not Playbook 2 for crying out loud.

For a start, this is a period piece, with the dialogue, performances and filming all paying wonderful and deep homage and respect to the crime thrillers of the 70s.

There are shots and scenes that if you caught them on Five on a Sunday afternoon, you would think were filmed almost 40 years ago - the tone and feel is totally on the button.

Which is no mean feat - director David O. Russell deserves all the praise and credit that will surely be heading his way come awards time.

Then there are the performances themselves.

There was a real danger here, given the weight of talent on screen, that this could have become a very unbalanced affair - but nothing could be further from the truth.

Not only does everyone perform out of their skin (just think, if Jennifer Lawrence is this good NOW, where does that leave everyone else in five/ten years time?), but they all understand that this is a true ensemble piece. They all need each other to shine.

And shine they do.

As the tacky, out-of-shape, balding con artist, Christian Bale is sublime. Vaguely reminiscent of Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder, Bale is the epitome of the anti-hero. He's seedy, unfaithful, fat... And yet you root for him every step of the way.

As you do with Amy Adams, his glamorous sidekick and co-conspirator, and Lawrence (his mouthy, brassy wife who has a tendency to set fire to stuff). Both are wonderfully slick, totally believable and unsubtly sexy.

Again, you shouldn't like them, but you do. Especially Lawrence.

Now, as I write that I feel bad because Adams (fresh from her performance as Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Lois Lane in Man Of Steel) is stunning. She has a depth I've not seen in her before, a steel that makes her stand out from the crowd.

It's fair to say she matches Lawrence step for step.

In fact, you could have had just these three for two hours and you'd have had a blast.

It's full credit, then, to both Cooper (as the oh-so-keen FBI goon) and Renner (as the corrupt-ish Mayor) that they make the impact they do on screen. Both are surprisingly subtle in their depictions of men driven to succeed at all costs.

If there's one complaint with American Hustle, it's the running time.

Getting close to two-and-a-half hours, sure it's shorter than Peter Jackson's Desolation Of Tolkien, but it's noticeably longer than, say, Playbook. Or Gravity.

Again, you have to give full credit to the cast that you don't start shuffling in your seat - and you're engaged enough to be busy trying to work out who is going to be conning who as the action unfolds - but it does not need to be this long.

At two hours, this would be amazing and I wouldn't have lost the feeling in both buttocks.

It helps, of course, that the music is so good.

Seriously, if I ever get to host one of those dream dinner party thingies, Russell's coming and he has to bring his iPod (or whatever device he chooses - I have a record player, it's not a problem).

Because, with this being a pure 70s film, the music is the icing on the slightly over-sized cake. We have Elton John, America, Tom Jones and Wings' Live And Let Die (with Jennifer Lawrence making you forget Guns N Roses ever got their hands on it).

The soundtrack doesn't 'make' the film in the same way as, say, the sound does in Stoker - but without it Hustle would be a less opulent, rich experience.

Running length aside (seriously, you only needed to shave 20 minutes off...), what you get in American Hustle is a bag full of fun and intrigue.

The plot keeps you guessing, the performances keep you entranced (Cooper in curlers is a particular highlight) and the soundtrack reminds you that there was far more to 70s music than Abba.

It's too early to call this as the best film of the year (as some already have) because, you know, it's January 4 - there's a lot of year left.

But we're off to a rollicking good start.