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Cinema Scope

Smooth Operators

18th Jan 2014

American Hustle

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen

Starring: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence

How delightful it is when a period film about an FBI sting operation becomes an ensemble comedy! With the fluid camera work that reminds one of Martin Scorsese, and a soundtrack comprising jazz, swing and Broadway hits, David O Russell creates a mad game of cat-and-mouse. This is comedy of the highest grade — the humour is in moments, in gestures, in people, and it works because we know the characters and their neuroses so well. The film starts off with this declaration: "Some of this actually happened." That sets the tone. It's careless and maverick and, most importantly, smooth. God, it's smooth. The core plot involves an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) trying to use conman Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), based on Mel Weinberg, to nab corrupt politicians. The focus is never really on the FBI project Abscam. I'm not quite sure what that was all about. The film stays on Bale, Cooper and Jeremy Renner, who plays a somewhat gullible rockstar-mayor. There are two women in Rosenfeld's life — the screechy wife (Jennifer Lawrence) and the sly mistress (Amy Adams). The film follows random characters, drawing us into parts of their lives. It feels like a happy caper, idiosyncratic in its approach, satisfying in its lack of narrative form and its love of paranoid characters. The acting is excellent. Christian Bale has consistently upped his standards over the years, and I worry that he may one day fall short of our hyped expectations. But that doesn't happen here. He makes Rosenfeld lovable, and carelessly so. We love him when he remarks to his wife that he thought she was mysterious like his mother, until he found out "mysterious" meant "depressed". We love him when he dances his mistress into a ballroom. Bradley Cooper is back as the suave, egotistical pretty-boy, looking for the right time to plunge a knife into a very suspicious back. Amy Adams is impressive as the glamorous con-woman, and Jennifer Lawrence is, as usual, rather annoying. As I walked out of the cinema, I thought of just how much fun the whole film was — how unpretentious, how rock-and-roll, how clever.

The Verdict: American Hustle contrives to successfully straddle the gangster, suspense and comedy genres, and does so by abstaining from overplaying any of those. Don't miss this on the big screen!

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