American Hustle will appeal to anyone who sees a film set in the 1970s as a kind of costume drama.
The hair is big and ridiculous, the lapels are wide, the chests are hairy and adorned with medallions. The film follows on from Mad Men in attempting to get all of the period details correct, the cars, the garish wallpaper, the disco, the dodgy fashions.
The film exploits that old American tale of grifters and con artists. Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, who has a number of scams on the go when he meets Sydney, (Amy Adams), who becomes both his business and romantic partner.
The pair get stung by Bradley Cooper's FBI agent and are forced to help him attempt to entrap public figures on corruption charges.
From there the story gets more complex, involving Irving's wife, played by Jennifer Lawrence, a local politician, senators, congressmen, a fake Arab Sheik, and Robert Di Niro as a mobster.
There is a touch of farce about the whole film, cartoon violence, Christian Bale's character gluing his toupee to his head, and Cooper's FBI agent with his hair in curlers. This sometimes pays off, and produces moments of humour, but overall it is an illustration that the film doesn't really know what it is.
There are comic elements, there is tension, a hint of danger with the mobsters, a sort of a love story between Irving and Sydney, and an attempt at a more serious examination of politics and the law.
Yet it is too disjointed, the movie doesn't seem to know where it's going most of the time. We have minor crises, small climaxes, and then the pace slows again. There is no real direction, no great building towards a denouement, the story kind of meanders.
This is not to say that there are not things to enjoy. Christian Bale is consistent in his portrayal of the central character, a slightly ineffective conman with a hangdog look and bad hair. Bradley Cooper is manic and driven as the FBI agent who is just after a bit of respect and success. There are some good jokes, and funny moments, including one with the first make of microwave to come out in the nineteen seventies.
And Jennifer Lawrence - continuing the theme of pretty much every film she
has been in - takes over the screen when she is on it, playing
manipulative, tipsy wife. Although she is again playing a role that is much
older than her, she dominates the action even in the small part that she plays. Irving
American Hustle is likeable and gently humorous, but is lacking an edge. Worth a look for the great cast, but an opportunity lost.