Hustlin’ hard

OUT NOW! Con-man and FBI agent showcase life under the table in AMERICAN HUSTLE with honesty.

American Hustle hits Berlin cinemas on February 13.

Based on the extravagant list of nominations for American Hustle, David O. Russell’s follow-up to Silver Linings Playbook has tapped even deeper into America’s fascination with the hustler’s anti-heroic triumphalism. Weight loss was McConaughey’s ticket to authenticity. Bale as con-man Irving Rosenfeld sports a paunch and a comb-over both held in place by fervent, romped-up ambition-enough to attract a classy ex-stripper Sydney Prosser (Adams) to his late 1970s dry cleaning establishment, fake art and loan scams. Enlisted as a team by messianic FBI agent DiMaso (Cooper), their jointly executed sting operation takes down a respectable selection of corrupt government officials.

Russell’s version of events, which “may have happened” (the 1970s Abscam affair), goes beyond milieu. And this is both its strength and weakness. The flares and the Fürstenberg wrap-arounds are great, the performances are stoked, and the off-kilter context of high-stakes mediocrity is captured by a camera which operates like a hustler roaming in and out of second-class hotels, tackied-up homes and semi-derelict casinos in search of surface dross.

But after two hours of sensational, stylistic fun ‘n’ fuss, the movie’s heart begins to thud ever louder with the beat of basic human decency as it counts down to a mild and sticky ending. That’s a lot of effort to insist on the American hustler’s innate honesty – and the indispensable shot at middle-class normality. Comparisons to Goodfellas et al notwithstanding, it’s the straitjacket follow-through of American Beauty that’s missing here.

American Hustle | Directed by David O. Russell (USA 2013) with Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence. Starts February 13

Originally published in issue #124, February 2014.