US, 2013, 130 minutes, Colour.
Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert di Niro, Michael Pena, Louis C.K., Alessandro Nivola.
Directed by David O. Russell.
Some of this actually happened, is the introduction to the film. While some of the events may have been actual, one wonders whether this was the tone of these goings on. This is satire, an amusing and funny interpretation of oddball characters and their attitudes and behaviour.
This tone is set in the opening moments as conman, Irving, spends a lot of time putting on his comb-over – reference to his hairpiece often during the film. Later, Bradley Cooper, an intense and ambitious federal agent, has his hair in curlers for his frizzy hairstyle. Amy Adams has quite a few different styles, as does Jennifer Lawrence (hers straight out of fashion magazines) and Robert de Niro seems to have lost some.
By recounting this coiffeur information, it is an indication of the attention to detail (1970s style) that David O. Russell has given to this elaborate con story. Russell has made a variety of genres, from Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees to The Fighter and The Silver Linings Playbook. He works again here with several of his casts from these films. He is certainly versatile.
Back to the cons. Irving has many good things going for making money, being credible to naïve investors, taking his broker’s fee but getting them no money. Christian Bale (who won an Oscar in Russell’s The Fighter) comes across as very different from Bruce Wayne, let alone Batman, showing a flair for comic timing. He encounters Sydney (Amy Adams, also in The Fighter) who is his perfect complement in double-dealings. One of their targets is a mayor from New Jersey, an Italiano, who has mob links though he is earnest about his political influence (Jeremy Renner). Stealing the show whenever she appears is Jennifer Lawrence as Irving’s wife. It is a supporting role but she brings such energy and presence that she makes the very best of her screen time – ditzy and imprudent, often funny.
The hustling becomes complicated when an agent gets wise to what is going on and decides to employ Iriving and Sydney to set up a sting for the mayor and his Florida mob connections. Enter Robert de Niro as a Mafia chief – looking a great deal older (but with a brief flashback to remind us of what he was like in years gone by). And enter a fake sheikh, Michael Pena.
It’s all in the timing, making good when plans go skewiff, exercising trickster confidence.
Surprisingly cheerful, sometimes quite funny, with top performances and some smart dialogue. As they say, what’s not to like!
1. Critical acclaim? Awards? The American appeal?
2. The director and his work, a variety of genres, working with the cast in several films?
3. The screenplay, remarking that some of the events were actual, the humorous tone, sardonic, satire?
4. The New Jersey sitting, the 1970s and its style, costumes, hair, language? The range of songs, the moods, the lyrics?
5. American finance, the role of government, the banks, fraudsters, the Mafia? Greed?
6. Introduction to Irving, the long scene of his doing his hair, comb-over, his self-image? His background, as a boy, breaking the windows, getting the business for his family, the dry cleaners? Self-established? His idea about loans? The collage of his customers, their comments? This small investment from big investment – the clients getting no money? His office – and the later visit with Sydney to the dry cleaners and getting her to take whatever clothes she wanted?
7. Sydney, seeing Irving at the party, going to listen to Duke Ellington, their bonds? Hearing the truth about his business? Her own background, stripping, working for Cosmopolitan, her business sense? Returning to Irivng? Creating the character of Lady Edith? Her working with the clients, flirting, seductive, performance? Irving and Sydney together? In love, her control?
8. Carmine as mayor, in himself, his wife, his family, 10 years in office, wanting to do good? His interests, plans, especially for the casino in Atlantic City? His agent and the meeting with Irving? Interview? The case of money and the mayor walking out? Reactions? The plan for the casino, the benefit of the state, Irving and his group and their wanting to capitalise on it?
9. Richie, as a client, the interview, the cash? Sydney and her Edith persona, shrewd? Irving less shrewd? The request for the loan, the revelation that Richie was an agent, their being caught?
10. Richie as a character, living with his mother, curling his hair, his fiancee, his ambitions, promotion in the FBI? His work with Thorson as his boss? The discussions, the money layout? The story of the fly-fishing and it’s being continued, Richie drawing the wrong conclusions? At the end, the FBI bosses, Anthony and the interview, giving the cash for the final sting? Recordings? The interview with the alleged legal representative of Tellegi? Richie being taken in? The final meetings, Thorson and his injuries from Richie’s attacking him? The capture of the politicians? Richie relegated to the background?
11. The plan with Richie, their working together, Richie with Edith, infatuated by her, the sex scenes with her, her control, resisting him?
12. The sheikh, the idea, the Mexican agent and his posing, his being briefed? The plane, the meeting at the airport? The issue of the casino? The Mafia from Florida turning up? Tellegi and the interview, the sheikh not speaking? The toing and froing of the discussions, the deals? Wanting to catch Tellegi? Tellegi speaking in Arabic, the sheikh replying? The confirmation of the deal?
13. Tellegi, Miami, the Robert De Niro style, his henchmen, Peter, shrewdness, at the bar?
14. Rosalyn, her place in the narrative, sabotaging the frauds? Jennifer Lawrence’s performance? Marrying Irving, with her son, their both loving him, Irving adopting him? The bond with Irving but not loving him? The visits, the arguments? No divorce in her family, the issue of separation? The clashes with Sydney, the antagonism, ultimately fighting? Talk at home, the range of moods, a condemnation of Irving in front of her son, his being picked up from school? The gift of the microwave, her carry on about it, poisoning the food? Meeting Peter? Intending to go to Las Vegas? Going to the functions with the mayor and his wife, raucous, befriending them, their urging her to come to dinners? At home, listening into Irving’s phone calls? The ultimate danger, her books about positive thinking, encouraging Irving in his plan?
15. Peter, the Florida Mafia, Las Vegas? His role, flirting with Rosalyn, her conversation, realising the truth, giving the information? Taking Irving, the bag over his head and the threats?
16. The setup, the lawyer allegedly representing the Mafia? The interview, the words on tape? There being used as the means for the sting? The irony that the lawyer was a fake?
17. The collage of politicians, the money deals, their being arrested?
18. Carmine, Irving liking him, warning him, too late, his reaction, the anger of his wife, the range of children watching? But his getting as shorter sentence?
19. The final plan, Richie, Irving and Edith, telling the truth, granted immunity?
20. The catching of the politicians, Thorson as a character, his dealings with Richie, his boss, the money grants, fly-fishing story, the physical attack? Richie and his being broke?
21. A film that is tantalising, complex, with twists, spoof, funny – and the nature of American hustle?