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Rob Wood is back with another of his fabulous film reviews. This week he give his verdict on Oscar nominee, American Hustle…

There are many criteria by which you can judge a good movie, but I have to admit to putting a lot of weight on involuntary noises. Horror movies are an exception – it’s not difficult to make someone jump. However, if you laugh, cry or gasp despite yourself, then you’re usually onto a winner. It’s a sign you’re gripped, invested, enjoying the movie on a deeper than intellectual level.
Three quarters through American Hustle I shouted “GNO!” at the screen. For those not fluent in strangled sounds, that’s a really anguished ‘No!’ American Hustle is tipped for big things at the Oscars and it’ll deserve every award it gets.
The movie stars Christian Bale (The Dark Knight) and Amy Adams (Man of Steel) as low level con artists who fall under the control of a dangerously ambitious FBI agent played by Bradley Cooper (The Hangover.) Forced to target Jeremy Renner’s (The Avengers) corrupt but likeable mayor, the two struggle to survive a rapidly snowballing plan and the vindictive whims of Bale’s wife, played by objectively perfect human being, Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games).

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Picking out one stand-out performance can only be done on the understanding that everyone is brilliant. Adams falls apart amazingly, taking on the burden of conveying the danger behind the film’s humour. Cooper starts off as part of the trinity of flawed heroes, but grows subtly in menace and fanaticism until you want to see him crash and burn. Lawrence combines almost cartoonish villainy with glimpses of a believable woman who, in the end, is more sinned against than sinning. The stand-out, however, is Christian Bale.
In American Hustle, Bale confirms that he is a true actor, the kind that is a totally different person movie to movie. Brad Pitt plays Brad Pitt brilliantly, and his presence usually improves whatever he’s in, but Bale commits to a part like few others. Every other actor does a brilliant job, but Bale is the ‘in-over-his-head’ conman so fully that you can easily forget to give him credit for acting.
It’s tempting to call American Hustle a heist movie, the kind that contains ‘hijinks’, but from the beginning the stakes are higher than that. There’s no ‘do this or you die’ threat, just the ever present knowledge that whether things go to plan or not, lives will be utterly decimated. Robert de Niro’s brief appearance as a mob hit man is telling: although it lacks many of the hallmarks, American Hustle contains more than a little gangster film.

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The spirit of the movie is illustrated in its first scene, where at least five minutes are solely committed to a single hilarious yet telling moment. After you laugh, watch Cooper’s reaction for a hint at the murky waters to come. American Hustle is ballsy and it hits the mark often enough to justify it. Director David O. Russell (I Heart Huckabees and Silver Linings Playbook) clearly had a very specific vision for the movie and it’s difficult to imagine him being disappointed with the finished product.
Despite its virtues there are a few noticeable problems, most of which lie in less than tight editing. The combined length of unnecessary moments makes it noticeably longer than needed. Although the performances are excellent, the story gives everything it’s got on first viewing – so any return rewards will come from the actors. Crucially, however, it gives more than enough to be forgiven.
A lot has been made of the late 70s/early 80s period details and the hair, suits and dresses are entertaining enough. The music easily steals the show but when you’re dealing with that time period, it would be more remarkable if it didn’t.
American Hustle is a genuinely funny movie that delivers more tension than you might expect. Despite a little editing flabbiness (and physical flabbiness, in one of Bale’s patented body transformations) it’s definitely a film you should find the time to see – albeit just short of being one that’ll survive the test of time.
 
When not watching and reviewing movies Rob spends his time crafting a tiny yet terrifyingly realistic doll of the Queen. Somehow he also finds the time to blog about his poor choices and their hilarious results – http://absentapologies.blogspot.co.uk
 

Have you seen American Hustle yet? Did it deserve its Oscar nominations? Why not comment below and tell us what you think…