Tuesday, 28 January 2014

American Hustle

The cuckoo in this award season's nest is American Hustle, a big, glossy, mess of a crime caper, stealing Oscar buzz from the more serious dramatic contenders with its smart writing, incredible performances, style and humour.

On one level, the film goes for larger-than-life, and featuring flamboyant performances from practically the whole cast, looks like it was as much fun to make as it is to watch.  Despite a slightly over-long running time, American Hustle holds attention with witty, fast-paced dialogue and over the top glamour - the seventies never looked so good!

Despite the polish, this isn't style over substance: there's an appealingly seedy flavour, a gritty truth behind the slickness, which ensures comparisons to The Sting 1 rather than Ocean's Eleven - and just in case you hadn't picked up on the tone, one of the characters spells it out, in a soliloquy to nail polish!

It's exactly this sense of comic self-awareness which makes American Hustle such a great viewing experience.  Because we like them, our sympathies are firmly with the criminal protagonists, even when they're pulling off sleazy cons: so when the drama escalates, the laughs keep the roller coaster on the rails, in this topsy-turvy world where the crooks are more ethical than the cops, a mistress is a more loyal partner than a wife, and a politician facing charges is the most honest person in the room.

A life of crime beginning to appeal? There's a completely different pair of confidence tricksters in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, a comedy starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin competing for attention, (and money,) along the French Riveria.

1 The Sting was also nominated for ten Academy Awards, and came away with seven, including 1974's Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director.

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