American Hustle review

'Some of this actually happened' reads an onscreen caption at the start of David O. Russell's American Hustle. Exactly which parts are true doesn't actually matter, as Russell has simply used the genuine 1970s FBI Abscam sting as the springboard for a story that is both a wickedly entertaining crime caper and a richly-layered character study.

When pudgy, balding con artist Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) meets the enigmatic Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), the sparks really fly. Won over by a shared love of Duke Ellington and Irving's abundance of self-confidence, Sydney becomes Irving's partner in crime and his mistress.

Trouble looms when one of the targets of their latest get-rich-quick scheme turns out to be up-and-coming FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who uses their arrest as leverage to force them into helping him cook up a much larger con designed to ensnare corrupt politicians, including New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). But as Richie starts casting the scam's net wider and wider, setting his sights on the Mafia, things start to become more dangerous for Irving and Sydney – especially when Irving's loose cannon wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) is added to the increasingly combustible mix.

While American Hustle frequently harks back to the distinct 1970s period style Scorsese developed in Goodfellas and Casino (De Niro even cameos as a mobster) there's none of those films' in-depth exploration of the mechanisms of crime. Instead, American Hustle's freewheeling plot is nothing more than a way of allowing Russell to deliver a probing insight into five fascinating characters and the unpredictable events that shape and change them.

None of which would be worth anything if it wasn't for an excellent script bristling with wonderful dialogue (co-written by Russell and Eric Warren Singer) and the actors who sink deep into their roles. While all of the five principals are worthy of praise, it's Christian Bale and Amy Adams who deserve the major plaudits. Bale is almost unrecognisable behind his pot belly and ludicrous comb-over, having piled on 40 pounds to play the dishevelled Irving. Meanwhile Adams continues to impress as one of the best actresses around, nailing a brilliantly mischievous performance of rare intensity, that sees Sydney (and her English well-to-do alter-ego Edith Greensly) effortlessly switch from anxious to hard-edged in the blink of an eye.

The only downside to this committed focus on the characters is that the filmmakers allow the narrative to get away from them at the end. As such, the final twist comes as an anti-climax, lacking the major payoff that it all seems to be building towards. This may be the more realistic ending, but given how far the film drifts from real events elsewhere, would it really have hurt to cook up something a little smarter and less predictable for the finale?

Picture: American Hustle arrives on Blu-ray with an authentically thick, film-like texture that still manages to dazzle with its rich saturation and superb clarity.

Dominated by the gaudier end of the colour spectrum, the film's palette is rich and warm, with even skin tones affecting a deliberately gold-hued look (particularly when it comes to shots of Adams). Fine detailing is also impeccable, allowing you to truly appreciate the effort that went in to creating the many and varied period costumes on show. This also extends to shadow detail, with black crush held at bay throughout.

The encode itself is also extremely technically proficient, with no bothersome edge enhancement, artefacting or pixelation spoiling the view.
Picture rating: 5/5

Audio: The film's DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack may not be given over to too much in the way of surround activity, but it still gets the very best of the material it's been given to work with.

Dialogue is crystal clear at all times and stereo separation across the front speakers is entirely convincing and helps widen the soundstage. However, where the mix really comes into its own is with the array of classic '70s tunes that litter the soundtrack, with the likes of Chicago, Donna Summer and Paul McCartney & Wings all sounding rather magnificent.
Audio rating: 4/5

Extras: Once upon a time you could always bank on at least one audio commentary (and sometimes two) accompanying any new David O. Russell film. Sadly, like Silver Linings Playbook before it, American Hustle has none. In fact it really doesn't have much at all in the way of extras – just a 17-minute Making of… featurette and a collection of eleven deleted scenes. As interesting as these are, the film really deserves more.
Extras rating: 1.5/5

We say: It may be rather lacking in extras, but this Blu-ray release is no con-job when it comes to AV performance

American Hustle, Entertainment in Video, Region B BD, £25 Approx