Review for American Hustle
This is the next in my pile of films that I really should have seen at the time, made all the more imperative with its haul of awards, 3 Bafta wins, 3 Golden Globe wins, and 10 Oscar nominations. I usually shy away from the award winners; they usually have a pretty actor uglying it up through a layer of prosthetics, or they are ponderously based on a true story. American Hustle is a bit of both, based on a notorious FBI sting operation from the late seventies, and it has Christian Bale going through one of his body transformations to play a part. Having said all that, American Hustle reviewed pretty well at the time, and I’d certainly like a change from the usual diet of comic book movies.
Irving Rosenfeld learned early on that to get ahead in the world, you had to take what you can get, by any means necessary. He may have inherited a legitimate business, but he makes most of his money running cons and shifting stolen and forged art. Then he met and fell in love with a kindred spirit in Sydney Prosser, and with her posing as Lady Edith, a minor member of British royalty to lend weight to his loan scams, they started raking it in.
That’s until 1978, when a likely looking mark turned out to be FBI agent Richie DiMaso, an ambitious man looking to climb high and fast in the bureau. He offers them an alternative to prison, if they help him entrap Carmine Polito, a local politician who’s looking for cash to rejuvenate Atlantic City. But once DiMaso gets a taste of success, he sees Carmine as just the first domino to fall in a series of high profile stings against politicians and the mob. The further they go, the more dangerous it gets.
American Hustle gets a 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer with DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English and optional English subtitles. It’s a great transfer, clear and sharp with excellent detail and no visible compression. About the only nit to pick might be a slight shimmer over the end credit scroll. The dialogue is clear throughout and there is a nice bit of immersion, especially with the music. The film excels in getting the period details right, with a golden tinge to the colour timing, and a slight older ‘film stock’ style. There is also that music soundtrack which perfectly exemplifies the era.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray, which autoplays trailers for The Butler, August: Osage County, I, Frankenstein, and Her before booting to an animated menu.
The scant extras on the disc comprise a making of featurette which lasts 16:37 with cast and crew interviews, and 11 Deleted Scenes running to 22:35 in total.
Any kind of procedural movie set in the present day instantly has a heap of problems hampering it, and all of it down to modern technology. Smartphones, the internet, and DNA tests have turned police procedurals into dry forensics shows, spy movies are filled with ever more bizarre gadgetry, and the same goes for con movies. The solution to all this tech overload is to instead make these genre pieces as period movies and TV, and the story can be limited by history in a way that once again makes it reliant on character, and visually compelling as well. The Nice Guys was a wonderfully entertaining detective movie set in the seventies, and the Life on Mars TV series was a great police procedural among other things. When The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was rebooted, its sixties setting was a great deal of its charm, so with American Hustle a seventies set con movie, the fact that it’s based on a true story is just a bonus really.
It does make me wonder however, why the rich, powerful and gullible still fall for Arab Sheikhs in hotel rooms. It worked for the FBI in 1978, and it still works for sleazy British newspapers today. American Hustle actually comes from a rather cynical place, the idea that everyone is in it for the con, typified by Irving’s marriage to Rosalyn, a marriage where both use each other and their son for emotional gain. That Irving and Sydney are criminals is clear from the off, but when they are caught by Richie DiMaso, the FBI agent turns out to be little more than a conman with a badge. The most sympathetic character in the story, Mayor Carmine Polito, is doing what he can for his constituents, but is willing to grease a few palms to get the wheels rolling.
Most con movies are about the mechanics of the swindle. There’s a plan, which invariably falls apart, a lot of thinking on one’s feet, plenty of twist and turns, and finally a reveal at the end to explain visually how all the crosses and double crosses played out, and how the protagonists got away with it. American Hustle has some of that, but it really isn’t interested in the design of the con. This is really a character piece, and that is where it shines. The 2 hour fifteen minute runtime is really spent in developing and exploring these characters, watching them relate to each other, and figuring out what makes them tick, finding sympathy for the reprehensible, and disdain for the seemingly innocent.
It’s the performances that really make American Hustle work, such rich and vivid characters that fill the screen, and a script that feels organic and unpredictable. This is very much a film worth watching, and for an awards season doyenne, it’s not in the slightest bit pretentious. The Blu-ray does justice to the film, but is rather light on extras.