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Last night I saw American Hustle at the Jam Factory in South Yarra, Melbourne. The film is based, admittedly fairly loosely, on events surrounding an FBI operation called AbScam in the late seventies. The basic premise is that the FBI use two con artists in an attempt to bring down some of the less savoury types in charge of New Jersey.

American Hustle Poster

American Hustle Poster

The first thing I noticed about the film was the opening titles; the were done with a grainy finish which was reminiscent of the period; you remember those dodgey orangey-gold letters announcing the names of the production companies. It effectively set the tone for the rest of the film, which is painstakingly, and in places uncomfortably, seventies.

After the credits, the opening scene focuses on Christian Bale’s character, Irving Rosenfeld, buttoning his shirt over his swollen gut and fixing his hair; a comb-over that is referred to variously as ‘ridiculous’ and ‘elaborate’. Maybe it says more about me, but it was very reminiscent of the opening sequence of ‘American Psycho’, in which we see Bale going through a similarly thorough grooming routine. Rosenfeld is not a particularly lovable character, flawed as most of the characters in this film are flawed, but we see him through the eyes of people around him who respect and love him, and we start to identify with him, to root for him, as the American’s would say.

Rosenfeld has two women in his life, his wife Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence) and his girlfriend and partner in crime, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). He clearly cares deeply for both of them; they are both complex, and they both manipulate him. Rosalyn is a deeply troubled and obstinately clueless woman who got Irving to marry her and adopt her son, for whom he has a truly caring and genuine affection. Sydney, who he met at a party, comes from a difficult background, is a skilled actress, and is Irving’s match in all aspects of their lives.

Then we have my favourite character, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), a young, headstrong FBI Agent who ropes Irving and Sydney into working for him. Whether it’s terrible hair, the Tony Manero outfits or the blind passion for his job that makes me sympathise with him I’m not sure, but I felt like he was an underrated character, particularly in the esteem of the other characters. I can’t really say any more about why without spoilers, but he was my favourite. If I’m honest the chemistry between him and Edith probably helped a lot – it was seriously hot.

Still: Sydney and Richie head out on the town

Still: Sydney and Richie head out on the town

Directed and co-written by David O. Russell, whose other work includes ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ which I enjoyed immensely, the film keeps up the tension all the way through. The supporting actors, including Louis C.K. And Robert De Niro, delivered consistently high-quality performances and I put this down to Russell’s directorial ability (not to disregard their acting chops though!). The film had a unified feel and flowed comfortably, there was no point where I was unsure about the inclusion of a scene. I noticed part way though that most of the scenes were unscored, that is to say they had no music, it was just silence and dialogue. It struck me as feeling a bit naked, but this surely was intentional, and added a feeling of isolation to the main characters.

Visually and tonally this film was rich and detailed; lots of brown, lots of patterns, lots of awful hair, and mirrors and man-bling and chest hair. It would have been very easy for these details to become comical, but I think art direction and cinematography (Jesse Rosenthal and Linus Sandgren respectively) worked together to create a believable world of excess without making fun of it.

I enjoyed this film very much, in particular the relationship to the real historical crime figures I’d studied last year at uni in the world of organised crime; specifically Meyer Lansky, Accountant to the Mob and associate of Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano along with the fictionalised versions of others.

This film is billed as a crime-comedy-drama, and I agree it is a fairly light hearted treatment of the material. For me was a sort of easy-listening version of a crime-thriller and I think it sat well in that space. I give this film 4 out of 5 stars; genuinely enjoyable and thoroughly well made.