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.

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