American Hustle David O Russell (Usa 2013)

American Hustle David O Russell (Usa 2013)

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

Viewed Empire Cinema Newcastle upon Tyne 28 Jan 2014

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

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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