Film Review: American Hustle

GRAEME TUCKETT
Last updated 05:00 27/01/2014
American Hustle
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American Hustle: Get these two to a hairdresser.

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AMERICAN HUSTLE (M)

Directed by David O Russell.

Golden ages of film are always more obvious in hindsight. The last one was the decade from the late-sixties to the late-seventies.

From, say, Bonnie and Clyde to The Deer Hunter. In that ten or so  years the American drama came of age, and a very specific school of writing emerged. America, battered and humiliated, divided in a way that it might never have been before, suddenly got very good at telling stories about pitiful people trying to survive in pitiless circumstances. Grifters, chancers, hucksters, and thieves became the new (anti) heroes. By the Eighties and Nineties, the facade of nationalism was back in place, and American big budget story-telling had returned to its old reactionary sentimentalist  ideals, with only Tarantino, plus Scorsese and a few other survivors from the 70's showing any signs of making something for the ages.

But with a recession and another confidence shattering Asian land war to ponder, American film-makers are hitting their straps  again. And the stories they are telling are sophisticated, credible, fresh, and yet somehow very familiar.

David O Russell has been at the forefront of this new era. From Spanking The Monkey, through Three Kings, and then The Fighter, and Silver Linings Playbook in consecutive years, Russell has been consistently bold, trusting of his audience, and never failed to entertain. American Hustle is his latest. It's scored Oscar nominations for best film, director, screenplay, and in all four acting categories. So you don't need me to tell you that this is a very quality bit of work, and well worth a few hours of your time.

American Hustle is based very loosely on the 1978 'ABSCAM' case, in which the FBI collaborated with a convicted con-man to trap public officials into taking bribes on camera. Although it was successful, with a raft of politicians convicted of corruption and worse, the case was also hugely controversial, even being  called 'un-American' in the press. In Russell's hands, and with Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and Christian Bale all turning in superb work, the story has yielded a terrific film.

American Hustle is hugely entertaining, perfectly paced, and generally impressive as all hell. And along, with Russell's last two, plus The Wrestler, Milk, Black Swan, Killing Them Softly, and a bunch of others, American Hustle is more proof of the fact that some of the very best dramas I've seen in the last few years have been in the multiplex, not at the film festivals. I like that.

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- The Dominion Post

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