American Hustle: big stars, even bigger hair

Sarah Holland

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David O Russell’s American Hustle is a bold and brassy affair. It’s a period piece; an indulgent, glossy gorge on the Seventies era. There’s the huge hair, hefty collars, outrageous patterns, ample cleavage and reveries about that pinnacle of Seventies culinary technology, the microwave – or the ‘science oven’, as the characters refer to it.

The retro styling is supported by confident, outlandish performances from an all-star cast. Even Christian Bale, widely known for his brooding Batman and most renowned for his knockout role as an emancipated insomniac in The Machinist, actually appears to be enjoying himself.

This is primarily a comic crime caper and – although it does strive to be loud, cinematic and super stylish – it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Rather than the usual ‘based on true events’, the words before the film commence reveal that ‘some of this actually happened’. The ‘some of this’ refers to the real life ‘Abscam’ operation in the Seventies, where the FBI used a con artist and a fake sheikh to take down corrupt public officials.

We begin in New York’s Plaza Hotel in 1978, where we’re faced with the bloated belly and greasy comb-over of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a good-at-heart art forger and loan shark, as he makes an ordeal of arranging his awful toupee.

It’s clear this is going to be great fun when in waltzes manic federal agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). DiMaso – who sports a head full of curls so perfectly formed Rosenfeld is left reeling – forces Rosenfeld and his fiery mistress Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) to infiltrate a group of New Jersey gangsters. In the ensuing hijinks there are strong performances all-round, but Jennifer Lawrence steals the show as Rosenfeld’s glamorously trashy wife, Rosalyn.

This is unabashed style-over-substance filmmaking, bringing together today’s hottest stars in a well-executed slice of sheer entertainment. It’s the sort of con-artist/gangster flick we’ve seen before, but with these famous faces and the chemistry they share, American Hustle amounts to a fresh experience. What’s more, while the similarities to Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights are evident, Russell’s style has a far more playful air; the tragedy inherent in the narrative is the only subtlety, left simmering below the surface.

With American Hustle the vibe is: sit back and enjoy the hair. And, believe me, you will.

Sarah Holland is a film writer based in Brighton. She blogs at Girl On Film. Follow her on Twitter: @SarahJHolland_.

Watch the trailer for American Hustle:

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