Let’s hear it for 70s hair (★★★ Directed by David O. Russell)
Like bees over clover, the Oscar buzz surrounding David O Russell’s crime romp, American Hustle has been frantic.
It’s already won best comedy at the Golden Globes, and its two female leads, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, won best actress and bets supporting actress.
They’re tipped to do the same again at the Academy Awards in May and every review has so far been hyperbolic and glowing.
Reasons for the hype are fairly clear – there’s the all-star cast featuring everyone from Batman Christian Bale to America’s Sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence. There’s even a bit part by king of the Hollywood crime boss players, Robert DeNiro. A-list all the way.
Then there’s the period harking back to the halcyon days of urban cinema, the 70s, when crime was ballsy, collars were as broad as they could get without taking off and broads were all flicky haired, slick-lipped and loose thighed.
Then there’s the hair.
The massive 70s dos are a visual gag that threatens to derail the film at first. I mean, some of these quiffs are so built it looks like a mafia construction team put them together, capice?
From Bradley Cooper’s Jerry curls, to Lawrence’s hay bale tumble: hair is at the heart of this ridiculous, often hilarious film.
Hustle even opens with small time grifter, con artist and businessman Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) constructing his elaborate comb-over.
His do is his armor, a voice-over tells us, and everyone needs armor in this shark-eat-dog-eat-kitten world.
At a grubby Long Island party Rosenfeld meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), his soul mate and fellow armour wearer; hers turns out to be a terrible fake English accent and persona, Lady Edith Greensley.
The pair embark on a series of lucrative cons that lead them right into the clutches of ambitious federal agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper at his manic, sleazy best).
Not content to bust a gaggle of small time losers for fraud, DiMaso forces Rosenfeld and “Greensley” to put together a big time con to net him a big fish in the form of New Jersey Mayor and massive pompadour sporting man-of-the-people, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner).
When Rosenfeld’s conscience (and desire not to end up at the bottom of the Hudson River in a dapper pair of concrete shoes) starts to get in the way of the big con, he must convince Prosser to pull the biggest con of all to get them out from under their FBI handlers forever.
As enjoyable as American Hustle is, I’m not sure all the hype and Oscar winks are entirely justified.
The film is dripping with Oscar worthy trappings, but it’s as shallow as Rosenfeld’s gorgeously manipulative wife Roslyn (Jennifer Lawrence).
The heist at the centre of Hustle is fun, but it’s no where near as clever nor convoluted nor beguiling as those that influenced it – the double dealing of Goodfellas and he underhanded power-plays of Casino.
And that hair! It’s pretty distracting – Renners gravity defying quiff alone takes a good thirty seconds to get your head round.
And don’t even get me started on the physical wreck that is Christian Bale in this film.
There ought to be a law against that sort of thing.
Still, despite these two, admittedly minor considerations, Hustle is a hell of a hoot.
The snarky bickering between the leads and the antagonism between flashy DiMaso and his stick-in-the-mud boss (Louis CK), not to mention Jennifer Lawrence at the height of her Jennifer Lawrenceness, are all top draw comedy.
Cooper’s fame hungry cop, recklessly violent and not above subtle cons of his own, is a brilliantly realised, tantrum-throwing man-child.
Even DiNiro’s small turn as a the Mafia power player to beat (literally) them all is rich with menace and comic anxiety.
In fact, all Hustle’s performances are passionate and consuming. You can’t help but think these guys had a hell of a time making this film and that’s where the real magic lies.
That passion is so infectious it’s hard not to cheer the final hustle that leaves everyone where they deserve to be, every last hair in place.
And who wouldn’t tug a back combed forelock to that?