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Amy is an easy mark for a hustle

Amy Adams loved the over the top costumes on 'American Hustle' where she is reunited with Director David O. Russell and Christian Bale.

PT3M43S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2z2q8 620 349

Reviewer rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Reader rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (23 votes)

American Hustle is a blast. It's hectic, hilarious, wild and poignant, full of luscious, sly detail and strong performances. It's very loosely based on the Abscam scandal of the late 1970s, in which US politicians were caught up in an FBI sting; yet it's not easy to categorise or pin down, and it shifts mood, focus and point of view. It's a film of invented lives, extravagant outfits and extraordinary hair.

''Some of this really happened,'' reads the opening title. And there's something about that offhand, tongue-in-cheek tone that sets up perfectly what's to follow, beginning with an extended scene of Irv Rosenfeldt (Christian Bale) preparing his hair. This is a laborious business that involves a toupee, glue and a comb-over, and the camera follows his moves with almost invasive closeness.

American Hustle

American Hustle stars Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence.

In other circumstances, or another kind of film, this could have been a moment that emphasised the ludicrous aspects of a character. But for writer-director David O. Russell, Irv's flaws, foibles and moves take on a kind of fabulous nobility. Russell embraces his characters and their aspirations in ways that sweep the audience along with him.

Irv has a dry-cleaning business, but his real commitment is to the art of the con. He has a partner in crime, Sydney (Amy Adams), and they're a match made in heaven, a couple of hustlers who respect and admire each other, and more. Sydney – febrile, smart and mercurial – is a brittle contrast to the solidity of Irv. Bale, who seems to relish bodily transformation, has gained weight and lost hair to play him.

Into the picture comes the eager Richie (Bradley Cooper), who seems at first to be Irv and Sydney's mark, but turns out to have another agenda that will take them to places they would not have chosen to go.

Yet Richie is not in control – he's a man straining for an identity and Cooper (who starred in Russell's Silver Linings Playbook) nails his desperation.

Also in the picture is another Silver Linings Playbook star, Jennifer Lawrence, as Irv's young wife, Rosalyn. She's shrewd, unstable, tricky and vindictive, and she knows how to play Irv. Then there's a New Jersey politician, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), with pastel suits and an over-the-top pompadour, who's a man of the people with an idealistic outlook and a pragmatic streak.

Around these five characters, Russell has constructed an artful, fluid, sometimes delirious narrative that, despite its basis in fact, engages more closely with American mythology than American history.

He uses occasional voiceovers from Irv, Sydney and Richie that have a kind of poetic lucidity. There are performance moments of various kinds – Rosalyn acting out to the sounds of Live and Let Die, Carmine singing Delilah at a party, a flashback image of Sydney's strip-club past – that add texture and suddenly open out the narrative.

Pitch-perfect minor roles include a smart, low-key cameo from Robert De Niro that is all the more threatening for its recessive qualities, and comedian Louis CK as a harried, put-upon FBI bureaucrat. They're part of a vivid, heightened, immersive period evocation, a taut drama, a crime saga, an intense love story. It's about desire and deceit, wish-fulfilment and responsibility, limitation and excess. And it's dressed to kill.

American Hustle opens on December 12.