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American Hustle - and White Rabbit in Arabic

American Hustle is my film of the year because it's a magnificent, warm, funny, outrageous, quirky, affirming celebration of life – and, ultimately, love.

In a year when American cinema in particular seems obsessed with lone figures surviving – Gravity (the most undeniably cinematic of the loner/end of empire canon); Captain Phillips; All Is Lost; Spike Jonze's reflections in Her on our increasingly overwhelming relationships with technology (that or his breakup with Sofia Coppola); Inside Llewyn Davis (more like a struggle to endure an overdrawn underworld myth) – it's incredibly refreshing to see David O Russell choreographing such a beautifully judged, inclusive and loving ensemble film as American Hustle.

From its unforgettable opening with the World's Greatest Combover (and a sweeping Duke Ellington track, Jeep’s Blues), to its extraordinary, thrillingly cinematic highlights – such as the coming together of opposing forces ("I know who you are!") amid smoke, darkness, a burning arc light and the perfectly judged Elton John song, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – or its insanely inspired Jennifer Lawrence/Live And Let Die sequence, American Hustle delivers the most entertaining and engaging film of the year, while also confronting questions deeply relevant not only to its 1970s ABSCAM subject matter, but to the present: what is real when everything changes all the time and seems so infinitely malleable; how do we dig down to the truth of who we are and what we feel; can we accept and love each other when all the layers of fabrication and illusion are stripped away?
Or, to put it simply, as my friend Ryan Gilbey did in his spot-on review for the New Statesman in Britain, what does it take to say, "I love you"?

It's also a film that emphasizes people working and playing together - not always willingly, admittedly, but with a refreshing sense that together we are greater than one; we complete each other: life is not about being the first on the life boat.

The performances in the film are as phenomenal as they are enjoyable, and Russell has done well to rein in some potentially “big” players (Robert De Niro, for one, excellent as a bespectacled Mafia boss) that instead are beautifully proportioned.

Christian Bale shines as Irving Rosenfeld, a con artist caught up in an ever-inflating sting operation – an unforgettable character who, despite the lies and the fakery (not least the intricate combover), is the film's heart, soul and moral compass. You love Irving, he has balls and ethics the size of Staten Island, despite his dubious career choice and his sartorial quirks.

The women in the movie are just stunning. Amy Adams, whose breasts seem ready at any moment to tumble out of her perfect 70s-style slash-cut gowns, provides a wonderful foil for Irving, as a female trickster named Sydney Prosser, whose English roots are only somewhat more kosher than the two Saudi sheiks who loom large in the onscreen scam.

While Bale/Irving seems largely untroubled by any doubts as to whom he truly is, Adams/Sydney is so caught up in her own reinvention – and profound desire to smash through it to the "truth" of her feelings, and of love and trust for another human being – that her act seems to scare and exhilarate her, to the point where no one, including the men around her, the audience and probably Sydney herself, entirely knows how much of what she's feeling is real.

Then there is Jennifer Lawrence, who is just a fireball of wild intensity as Irving's wife, Rosalyn. Like a Scorsese character on DMT (but one of the guys: he doesn't do women this powerfully), Rosalyn burns across the screen, eating the audience and the chumps around her, while simply flashing her exotically manicured nails – or seducing a roomful of Mafia wise guys.

Lawrence, at 23, is Meryl Streep with a torpedo – an actress who clearly is going to be around a long time and is going to find ever more surprising ways to blow our minds.

When (thanks to a nutty, inspired last-minute idea of Russell's) she dons rubber gloves and cleans house while lip-syncing to a popular Bond song, the sequence is very nearly as unsettling as Bjork singing time backwards after the killing in Dancer In The Dark. It's certainly a lot more fun.

Throw Bradley Cooper in curlers (some of the time) into the mix as an occasionally coked-up FBI agent, Richie DiMaso, with the hots for Rosalyn and a hard on to bust the biggest politicos and mobsters he can find – and Jeremy Renner as a big-hearted, only slightly corrupt New Jersey mayor - and American Hustle becomes a glorious fusion of Goodfellas and screwball comedy.
This last element is underscored by a finely judged performance by the outstanding standup comic, Louis C K, as DiMaso's boss, a quietly sane man in an increasingly unbalanced world.

I've been a huge fan of David O Russell's for years - Three Kings is one of the most remarkable films of the 1990s, and one of the smartest and most compassionate war films ever (the torture scene with Mark Wahlberg is both extraordinary and fantastically empathetic of both characters) – and it's hugely satisfying to see him deliver a movie as layered and complete as American Hustle.

And it’s also worth noting financier Megan Ellison’s contribution through her company, AnnapurnaPictures, which backs the kind of intelligent movies the studios rarely do anymore. Ellison is also the financing force behind Her, as well as one of last year’s most remarkable pictures, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master.

Of all the films this year, American Hustle stands alone in demanding a second viewing straight away – purely for pleasure. And then another and another.

It also has the year's best soundtrack – which you can explore here, in this excellent Huffington Post piece about music supervisor Susan Jacobs.

One of the movie's most powerful songs is this newly reimagined Arabic versionof Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit, sung with a wonderful intensity by Lebanese singer Mayssa Karaa:


  1. There were some repetitive moments to be found here, but overall, it was a very fun flick that never bored me. Not even for a single moment. Good review Alexander.


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