American Hustle (David O Russell, 2013)

What's it about? Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are con-artists who end up being forced to work with ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to entrap some high-profile politicians. As the scheme becomes increasingly dangerous, things are further complicated by the unpredictable actions of Irving's manipulative wife (Jennifer Lawrence).

Is it any good? I couldn't help feeling a bit conned myself by this film. I got lured in by all the acclaim and Oscar nominations, only to find it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. The problem is that it can't seem to decide whether it wants to be a slick con movie with Goodfellas-esque narration, or a comic, free-wheeling tribute to 70s fashion and music. As a result it ends up rather missing the mark, doing both things enthusiastically, but rather sloppily, like some kind of over-eager grifter. Russell is on record as saying it is the characters, rather than plot, that he likes, encouraging semi-improvisation wherever possible, but what a pity he couldn't focus his story a little more to do justice to those characters. That said, there is much to enjoy in the characterization, with a spectacular hair-off between Cooper's curls and Jeremy Renner's quiff, whilst an entrancing battle of the cleavage develops between Lawrence and Adams. But it's Christian Bale, with his paunch and dodgy comb-over, who really excels here, reminding me of a young DeNiro in his improvisation and mannerisms, a comparison which is quite apt, as it turns out. If the story had been told from Irving's point of view entirely, it would have focused the entire film and could have pulled off the con trick much more convincingly. As it is, its confidence is not really earned and it lacks a certain sting.

Anything else I should know? Another film inspired by true events, although the film is perfectly up front in admitting it has taken liberties with the real-life tale. Here's a full run-down on the fact vs fiction of the story. Elsewhere, it garnered a whopping 10 Oscar nominations (hooray!), but (ooops!), which was rather fitting, since if you play the con as sloppily as this, you might think you'll end up with something, but instead you end up with nothing.

What does the Fonz think? Somewhere between Three Stings and Flirting with Disaster.

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