american_hustleIt’s been something of a regret of mine that I didn’t fully embrace the years when I had good hair. Because between 1994 and 1998, I did have good hair. Then it started to fall out and I started to try and cover up that fact. This supposed ruse lasted far longer than it should have. More than ten years too long. I finally took the decision to shave the lot off in 2010 and since then I’ve been bald and proud. I’m glad I got that off my chest. Thanks for listening.

American Hustle opens with a card that tells us that some of what we’re about to see actually happened. Then we’re offered a two minute sequence of a tubby Christian Bale trying to construct what little hair he has into a decent comb-over, and even though I was in a cinema, a state, a country, where only one person knows of my own old follicle issues, it was enough to make me shrink in my seat.

As David O Russell (The Fighter which I loved, and Silver Linings Playbook which I hated) introduces us to the world of American Hustle, we get a stark reminder of how truly diabolical the 70s were. This reminder particularly takes the shape of Bradley Cooper’s tight curly perm and more generally anything that anyone wears in the entire movie.

Based loosely on the Abscam scandal, Hustle tells the story of Irving Rosenfeld (Bale), a small time con man who earns his money by offering loans to people which he never intends on fulfilling and instead nabs their sizable application fees, whilst also dabbling in stolen art. Although he’s married, he soon hitches up with Sydney (Amy Adams and her side-boobs which have never had such exposure) whose impression of an English lady helps the scam. However, they’re soon stung by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper and his formidable perm) and forced to help him bring down bigger con-men, more corrupt officials. DiMaso’s ambition knows no bounds, though, and they soon find themselves involved with big government and the mob and completely out of their depth.

It’s a movie that very much takes from other sources. Watching it, I was reminded of Goodfellas, Oceans Eleven, Boogie Nights amongst others. This isn’t a problem as such, but in terms of sting movies, we know to expect the unexpected, we know that side deals have been struck, and there’s always going to be another twist. In these respects, we’re not disappointed.

So for me, this was always going to be a movie that was more about performances than it was story and in that regard it really excels. Christian Bale with his oozing sleaze, Jeremy Renner as a New Jersey mayor, the magnificent-as-ever Jennifer Lawrence as Rosenfeld’s crazy wife and the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate, and even Bradley Cooper and that perm all put in some great work. Most surprisingly, Robert De Niro actually turns up for work playing a high ranking Mafioso dude, rather than phoning in his performance which he’s been more than guilty of doing in recent years.

And it’s very funny. It’s not funny in a gag type way, but just by the nature of the situation and people’s natural interactions with each other. Some trailers bill it as a comedy. It really isn’t, but I laughed more here than I did at Anchorman 2, which perhaps isn’t saying an awful lot. So it’s funny and it’s cleverly told. There’s a lot of joy to be had from how the story unfolds. Science Oven Conversations deserves its own movie.

On the downside, at 138 minutes, it feels at least 20 minutes too long. This isn’t a story that should take more than two hours to tell, especially given that it’s a story that feels like it’s been told before. Plus, like the comb-over, it flatters to deceive, only in this instance it does so by having the audacity of having a fantastic cast working at their peak and a more than competent director / writer at the helm, rather than a good comb, plenty of sculpting time in the morning, and some industrial-strength hairspray. The story convinces. But only if you don’t prod it too much.