New Hollywood understood that there was no bar to idiosyncrasy within realistic contexts provided that its characters remained identifiable no matter how extreme or perverse. David O Russell’s new film, ‘American Hustle’, a wacky heist caper, is set in the late 70’s when New Hollywood was still in its heyday, and by adhering to this basic tenet, finds a joyous balance between retro madness and startling freshness, which hits the mark with a contemporary audience.
But don’t be deceived by all this fooling around, O Russell – along with Paul Thomas Anderson, America’s most important contemporary filmmaker, easily – has much to say about our insecurities, vulnerabilities and delusions – in short, the human condition – which is as relevant now as it was thirty or forty years ago. And, as with his previous two features, ‘The Fighter’ and ‘Silver Linings Playbook’, a truth emerges, effortlessly, at the precise point when the film transcends its genre; one that many lesser filmmakers desperately seek but never quite discover.
Russell teased the audience from the off with the playful declaration – a metaphorical health warning – “Some of this actually happened”. And indeed it did, with Russell basing the film on the FBI’s notorious ‘fake sheikh’ Abscam sting; albeit spiked with an irony that borders on the sardonic.
Christian Bale and Amy Adams play Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, two small time con artists with benefits and, sometimes, more – partners “in love and commerce” – who make an unlikely pairing, bizarre even, but there is a chemistry of a kind. He is an overweight cigar smoking slime-ball sporting a spectacular combover – we can’t take our eyes off it – and displays strong self-preservation instincts in a streetwise way but falls short of being smart. She is drop dead super sexy and razor sharp with a lethal blend of cunning and intelligence but so is Adams and we can never be sure whether her character is playing the others or she is taking us for a ride.
Sydney’s charms are also too much for Bradley Cooper’s poodle permed Richie DiMaso, a naive and overambitious fed, who traps Irv and Sydney into playing along with the sting but cannot see through her intoxicating faux ‘Lady Edith’ British persona.
And on the other side of the coin, there is Jennifer Lawrence’s chaotic Rosalyn, Irv’s wife and a liability with a capital ‘L’, who speaks without thinking but can hold her own when the chips are down or, in Irv’s words, “the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate”.
Russell allows them considerable leeway to improvise and – perhaps the key ingredient – they conjure characters unworthy of any sympathy but persuade us to care. Rosalyn reminds us that the ‘best perfumes in the world are laced with something nasty’ – animal turds – but it works the other way around with these characters: they’re all selfish shits with the occasional whiff of humility.
In a fab conceit, Mayor Carmine Polito and mafia man on the inside adds a layer of moral complexity, planning to use dirty money for the public good and comes across as more virtuous than those entrapping him.
DiMaso’s exasperated police boss – a throwback to Seventies cop shows – makes numerous attempts at telling an anecdote but DiMaso always interrupts by trying to second guess the end. It becomes a shaggy dog story with a kick in some way relevant to the investigation but, like DiMaso, we are left guessing.
Robert De Niro, the real De Niro deal as he was in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ and another reminder of what we have been missing, chips in with a chilling and unexpected cameo as Victor Tellegio, an iconic old school mobster, who is all the more terrifying the quieter he speaks.
And there is a super cool soundtrack. Duke Ellington still takes us by surprise and – to paraphrase Irv – who in the world does start a tune like that; it’s so good, it momentarily distracts us from the film. So does Thelonious Monk, rewriting the rules in a more low key way, and there is a smattering of contemporaneous classics and more.
This engaging and very funny film with huge collars and ties and quotes galore – there is a ‘science oven’, an early microwave to you and me – comes together in the most complete way and, like many New Hollywood pictures, it has very little to do with plot.cheap cialis online canadian pharmacy buy cialis daily cialis online indiabuy cialis daily online