Beth Middleton reviews one of the awards season’s big players, whose stellar cast drives this dark comedy.

American_Hustle_2013_posterWith ‘American Hustle’ already boasting several awards, and looking set to sweep the Oscars, it was no surprise that my first attempt to see it at the cinema was foiled due to it being completely sold out. Eventually getting to the see film, I leant forward as the credits rolled, in full view of the rest of my housemates and asked the question that was on everyone’s lips:

‘What on earth did we just watch?!’

That’s not necessarily a derogatory comment. I’ve asked the same question about many of my favourite films: Kill Bill, Moulin Rouge, anything with Johnny Depp in it. It tends to accompany films that don’t do what the audience expect them to do.

Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is a small time conman who falls in love, and subsequently goes into business with the beautiful and bright Sydney (Amy Adams). Their operation runs smoothly enough until they are caught out by FBI agent Richie DaMaso (Bradley Cooper), whom agrees on letting them walk free as long as they help him make four higher profile arrests. Alongside this scenario you have Irving’s depressed, manipulative and show stealing wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who constantly puts her foot in it and tends to stir up the pot whenever things start going well.

The story line was decent. Nothing jaw dropping, but nothing disappointing. It was solid and sturdy, despite the slow start. This is not an action film, nor a thriller. Ironically, after the Golden Globe win, it’s not even really a comedy. It’s something different- it’s a film where the characters are far more complex and interesting than the lives they are living. This fuels a pressure cooker atmosphere. These characters are like a cheap bottle of shaken up cava: all about the show, ready to explode and with a bit of an unpleasant aftertaste to boot. This is what made the film explosive- characters that weren’t perfect, had their own agendas and actually didn’t know what they were doing most of the time. From Jennifer Lawrence’s character cleaning the house and dancing manically to ‘Live and Let Die’, to Bradley Cooper’s character beating up his boss when things didn’t go his way. The film was driven by people doing what they need to do to get by. About reinvention and façade, and how the world’s details are sketched in different shades of grey, rather than black and white.

One of the film’s qualities was that there were no ‘good guys’ and no ‘bad guys’. There weren’t even ‘bad guys who were good at heart’ or ‘good guys who had harrowing pasts and therefore occasionally did bad things’. They were all just people with flaws. The film’s strength is harnessed in the characters and the immaculate acting behind them. Personally, I felt Jennifer Lawrence’s character could have received more attention, considering her complexity from a mental perspective. Although Rosalyn was quite obviously the comic relief in the film, there was room for more depth in her behaviour.

Being set in 1970s America, the entire atmosphere balances on the delicate procedure of people trying to get whatever they can from an unlikeable situation. The characters seem determined to promote themselves as a result of man-made success from the ashes, as is the way of the American Dream. Again, the emphasis on attempted success and the necessity of fraud only increases the feeling of hollowness and façade. The concept of being successful is more important than actually being successful as ‘people believe what they want to believe’. This is an idea that leaks into each character’s past. Rosalyn refuses to get a divorce even though the marriage is unhappy as no one else in her family has ever got one. It’s more important for her family to think she’s in a happy marriage than it is for her to actually be in one. Richie DeMaso’s operation doesn’t end as expected, rendering the entire endeavour worthless to him. Sydney spends most of the movie pretending to be a well-connected English woman, and Irving wears a ridiculous toupee to keep up appearances. This is a film that sees the humour and drama in a group of individuals attempting to be their own version of success.


Release Date: 01/01/14
Run Time: 138 minutes
Certificate: 15
Director: David O Russell
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner and Robert De Niro.