Pre-meditated film reviewing adds a certain amount of pressure to a visit to the flics, writes Catherine Feore. American Hustle (2013) hasn’t yet opened in Brussels (it opens 12 February 2014), though when I woke up on 13 January, I learned that it had already bagged a few Golden Globes in the States.
Just before the press viewing it occurred to me that as a reviewer I should probably have brought a pen and paper, so I grabbed a napkin and asked the organizers if I could have a pen.
Truth be told, I didn’t take any notes – other than to write down the name of one of the ‘hustled’ politicians – so I could Google it later. Still, I made some mental notes. Somewhere in the middle of the film I made a mental note that what was happening on the screen was not plausible. Afterwards, I was trying to remember where the ‘implausible’ scene was and just couldn’t, which was great because I really enjoyed the film and frankly, complaining that some bits of it were implausible is like complaining that The Wizard of Oz (1939) is implausible once Dorothy leaves Kansas or demanding that Hollywood should only make films that reflect life’s gritty and often dull reality. Clearly, this would not be a good recipe for box-office success.
The film is loosely and sometimes not-so-loosely based on a famous FBI sting of the late 70s, Abscam. The central character of the movie Irving Rosenfeld, played by Christian Bale, is based on the conman who was used by the FBI to ‘hustle’, or some might say entrap thieves and then public figures, mostly Congressmen. The film tells the story of the scam, with flashbacks from Irving’s early life from his first scam, drumming up business for his father’s glazier business by breaking windows, through to his life as a reasonably successful conman charging fees for non-existent loans through his company ‘London Investors’. All good, until I read that the ‘real’ Irving Rosenfeld, Melvin Weinberg’s, first scam was selling footless socks (ankles only) to busy commuters and thought that maybe truth is funnier than fiction.
The film sometimes goes a little flashback mad. For example, we’re told that Tellegio (Robert de Niro) was the mobster who decided not to bury his victims, which is followed by a flashback of Tellegio killing a guy and leaving him on the street – this is a little superfluous. The leitmotif between FBI agent Richie DiMaso (played by Bradley Cooper) and his direct boss Stoddard (Louis C.K.) is good to a point, but I was waiting for the ice fishing story to reach a wonderfully funny or insightful conclusion, I don’t think it did. Did I miss something?
The acting, on the whole, is a delight. Jennifer Lawrence is wonderful. She plays Irving’s wife, a slightly warped, needy, manipulative but somehow endearing character, a Scarlett O’Hara of our times – we know we shouldn’t like her, but somehow we do, or I do, for what it’s worth. Whilst the scene where she sings along to Live and Let Die doesn’t really add much to the story, she does it with such verve, I’m glad it didn’t end up on the cutting-room floor.
Christian Bale is outstanding, I don’t really know his films because I don’t usually volunteer to go to films like Batman, I may be the last person to join his fan club, but better late than never. Bradley Cooper is also very good, though very occasionally I would like him reined in a little. The only actor I don’t think totally pulls off their role is Amy Adams as Sydney Posser; she’s good and I am nit-picking a little, but I always find her just slightly insipid when she’s trying to be ‘sexy’ in films, in Enchanted (2007) she was the perfect embodiment of the Disney princess, but she isn’t so strong in the darker regions of the acting spectrum. If she wants an Oscar she’s going to have to feel pain and show it! A slight frown won’t do it, Amy.
In the Golden Globe discussion on BBC news, there was some debate about whether the film was or wasn’t a comedy. Whilst it wasn’t Airplane! (1980), it was funny. If the showing I went to go to is anything to go by, when and why you find it funny varies a lot. In parts, I wondered what others found so hilarious, in other bits I was a lone voice laughing in the wilderness – to borrow from the film, I think it was Jesus who said that. All in all, thoroughly enjoyable, I recommend it.