REVIEW: AMERICAN HUSTLE (M) 138 mins
"As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a hustler."
Actually, that's not the opening line - but it might as well be; American Hustle is such a shameless homage to Scorsese's Goodfellas.
The camera swirls as the criminal plot thickens via voiceover, and sassy women with big earrings challenge Christian Bale's bloated protagonist who defends himself in an excellent Bronx drawl which channels Henry Hill. Every now and then they stop shouting so we can hear a burst of magnificent pop music laid over a slo-mo shot or a pan around the hotel.
To be fair, this glamorous, over-the-top tale of con artists getting caught up in a con not of their choosing borrows from many a great film set in previous decades when necklines plunged and hairstyles madeth the man. It's like a less gritty Argo (this story is loosely based on a real FBI sting), or a tamer Boogie Nights. But that's part of its charm. Whether you'll be able to clearly recount the story to a friend afterwards is almost irrelevant (And I'm not about to help you out).
What matters is the execution. David Russell is swiftly becoming a director who sticks to casting his own ensemble of stars, here reuniting Bale and Amy Adams from The Fighter, and Oscar nominees Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and winner Jennifer Lawrence, still flushed from their success in last year's Silver Linings Playbook.
Luckily the actors have fished their roles from the bowl of keys and play against different partners this time, and with such vivacity that they burst onto the screen as completely fresh characters. All are very fine indeed, but typically Bale is superb, putting weight on for a change.
Adams is as sexy as we've ever seen her, the pervy camera caressing her split-to-navel dresses, and Lawrence pulls out every stop as the delightfully crazy wife whose cleaning routine rivals her grasp on logic. Some scenes are so hilarious you wonder how on earth they got the take without corpsing.
American Hustle has already won the Golden Globe for best picture, and is up for no fewer than 10 Oscars come March.
If you squint through the razzle-dazzle, you realise it's not very original nor is it quite the sum of its glorious parts - but if you're prepared to sit back and let the hustlers work their magic, you're guaranteed a rather splendid time.
- © Fairfax NZ News