American Hustle David O Russell (Usa 2013)

, 2014-02-05

American Hustle David O Russell (USA 2013) Christian Bale; Amy Adams; Bradley Cooper.

Viewed Empire Cinema Newcastle upon Tyne 28 Jan 2014 Ticket:£3.95

Hanging in/out

After two hours plus in the cinema I found it difficult to understand what Russell's American Hustle was about except style and mood. It's a relaxed laid back type movie personified in Bale and Adams who comprise the performing axis, and the excuse for the plot to crank through its laborious machinations.

Set in the 1970's, it is based loosely (very loosely I suspect) on a conman and con woman entrapped by the FBI and whose skills are used to expose high level political corruption in New Jersey and Washington. But all the plot shenanigans are played out in an inconsequential manner that became progressively perfunctory. The script initially lends the two protagonists voice overs giving some insight into Irving and Sydney's states of mind. This device is soon abandoned leaving the audience to gaze at the surface of the movie: the costumes and haircuts, the music and the square dance of the personal relationships that pivot around Irving's wife and girlfriend.

American Hustle is little more than a bland exercise in style. It is laboriously scripted with cliche'd one liners borrowed from a previous jaunts into the Con-land genre such as the Sting and the Grifters. The dialogue represents a stereotyped cod American philosophy of survival captured all those years ago by W C Fields: “ Never give a sucker an even break.” How long can they go on recycling these gash lines?

American Hustle is almost completely lacking in on screen tension unless you count the extreme décolletage of the outfits worn by Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence. Bursting out of the costumes, their tits threaten to pop out completely at any time. But the scenarists decide not to do a take on this particular gag line, and the tape or whatever, does its job. And, in the final scenes in which the plot has bestowed upon all the players smiling faces and happy MacDonald family hour, the ladies mamories are appropriately and symbolically nicely tucked up inside their bras. The tension is over and so is the film.

American Hustle: tit's haircuts costumes and 70's music all the way down the line. Everything on the surface. Judging by its face American Hustle is an exercise in borrowed style from a bygone epoch, the usual Hollywood retro refuge when the material has nothing much else going for it. A surface of contrasting haircuts and coiffure, frocks and flairs and whenever the script or haircuts or costumes start to flag, Russell fades up some 70's grooves David Bowie, Donna Summer Elton John to keep the audience interested. American Hustle a sales pitch for a 70's select CD.

In a filmic sense American Hustle is a dead dog, a tired stylised exercise of genre Hollywood output. But there is one particular thing of note in the scenario and that is the psychic make up of the main characters. They replicate in their identities an increasingly opperant feature of Western identity: the schizo ID. Each of American Hustle's main characters plays out a schizo personality; no one is whom they seem to be. Irving is and Sydney are professional cons whose presentation of self is at the same time both a fabrication and a deeper assertion of their real selves. And the FBI agent and Roslyn also move into variant schizo identities of the people they start out as representing. American Hustle's main characters are all schizos and symbolise the forces that are at work in a culture where leisure has replaced work and status as the loci of identity.

Embedded in the core of the film's characters is the idea of duality of identity. As the characters move between different strata and social networks they shift identity to accord with their needs and purposes. ID is changed: just like changing a frock. We live in the land of the quick change schizo artist. But of course this ID schizo shift in the movie replicates what's become the default option in the West. Increasingly individuals operate across a number of discrete domaines such as work leisure and in particular on-line worlds. In step with this de facto separation there's a tendency to create and adopt variant ID's to interact with each network of people. This schizo tenancy in fronting contemporary identities can be slight or radical, but overwhelming forces are at work driving the process. Schizo identity claims have become part of the deep game playing that is used sometimes to effect successful manipulation, but that often ends up as a sort of compulsion to control all the parameters relating to the presentation of self. And American Hustle on its own somewhat anodyne terms certainly uses this schizo feature of contemporary life as a playing out factor of the film.

Adrin Neatrour