DAVID O. Russell may just be a master of disguise.
In Silver Linings Playbook, one of my favourite films of last year, he his a clever and off-beat drama inside what looked from the outside to be a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy.
This year, American Hustle looked from the trailers to be a stylish crime drama, but contains an often laugh-out-loud comedy inside.
This wolf in sheep’s clothing attitude to film directing works to a degree, because whatever preconceptions with which you go into his one of Russell’s pictures, you leave with a very different idea of what you have just seen.
In the case of the always fun American Hustle, though the over-riding story arc of the film is one of grifters, corruption and the mob, I left remembering the laughs.
It is not a gag-fest, and often the laughs come just from an expression or a gesture made by one of the characters – usually Bradley Cooper’s manic FBI detective Richie DiMaso or Jennifer Lawrence’s brash and beautiful Rosalyn Rosenfeld.
The film loosely follows the story of the real-life ABSCAM operation, but admits at the very start that only “some of this actually happened”.
Christian Bale, who proves his versatility as an actor with a role as far removed from Batman as you can imagine, plays Irving Rosenfeld, a fat small-time hustler with a comb-over who teams up with Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) to scam people looking to borrow money.
They are caught by Di Maso, who persuades the pair to help him catch bigger fish with their grifting expertise.
Their first target is Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), a New Jersey Mayor with good intentions, who gets dragged into murky waters due to his desire to restore Atlantic City.
However, when they attempt to rope in mob boss Victor Tellegio (Robert Di Niro), things begin to get out of hand.
The riffing dialogue is pacy, and while it sometimes feels as though there was not quite enough plot to go around, the acting keeps you entranced throughout, especially and wonderfully understated and unflattering performance from Bale, while Lawrence’s highly-strung wife shows another string to the young actress’ bow.