A fun romp, but less hustle than the title would suggest.
The short and spoiler free version:
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
Overall: A frequently humourous and well set film but seemingly torn between its characters and plot exploration.
Summary: Irving, a con man along with his partner Sydney, gets trapped into working for enthusiastic FBI agent Richie who wants to use them to catch bigger fish.
The slightly longer version (spoilers):
Let’s party. Links to other reviews behind the pictures, too, if you’re curious.
They also happen to be the picture sources.
The film includes a great cast of actors in the leading roles, as you can see above. None of the characters are especially ‘good’, save perhaps Mayor Carmine (the rather adorable Jeremy Renner-with-a-quiff) but each of them do come into their own. The first to catch your eye is of course Irving (Christian Bale), sporting a ridiculous combover and an unashamedly round stomach. I’m getting ahead of myself. Anyway, when Irving gets caught on a con with his partner Sydney by FBI agent Richie, he has to accept a con to catch four other players in exchange for his own and Sydney’s freedom, and thus the main story kicks in.
With everyone having their own agenda you almost expect to be conned as a viewer, but the acting is surprisingly honest, the different characters playing off each other with sparks. Some of the best moments include the flashback to the beginnings of Irving and Sydney’s partnership and Richie’s passionate interactions with his stubborn, conservative boss, as well as of course every moment with the funny and brilliant Rosalyn (Irving’s wife, played by Jennifer Lawrence). Brilliant characters doesn’t necessarily mean good characters; none of them are exactly clean cut in their methods or virtuous in their opinions. The kindest of them, Mayor Carmine, wants to rebuild Atlantic city and does everything for the ‘good of the people’ but not always by honest methods, and is Irving’s ticket into the big con. Still, Carmine is an intensely loveable character and to see it end less than happily for him made me a bit sad.
The ending is otherwise a satisfactory conclusion to an entertaining film – Irving pulls one last con on the FBI agent who used him in a neat twist and apparently becomes an honest man, or at least a safer one, away from the mob and with his own legitimate art gallery. Which is rather a fitting ending for a man that basically illustrated the entire theme of the story at the beginning with a fake painting, beauty in the eye of the beholder, and shades of grey. Make of it what you will.
I think my only issue is that the cons, whilst neat, are not especially complex and not given as much screentime as the title would suggest. Perhaps I am a little spoilt from previous experience of the excellent TV show Hustle (available on Netflix), and in the unavoidable comparison my personal preference remained in orbit around what I already loved. There was a lot more focus on relationships than I expected, especially Irving’s with the two women but also the women’s other interests. Also I felt that the women here were used rather stereotypically despite the strength of the acting and the characters’ potential. But, one has to think of the culture and nature of the film after all, and I’ve definitely seen worse. Overall, it wasn’t the sharpest or most complex piece, but a 4 out of 5 that’s more likely to stay 4 with different viewers because of its fun romp, unlike say, Blue is the Warmest Colour.
Meanwhile, Bradley Cooper in hair rollers.