Review: American Hustle
How often can you say you're watching a classic film, about a half-hour into watching it? That's the exact feeling I had as David O. Russell's American Hustle was kicking into gear. Bringing back familiar faces he's worked with recently, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) Christian Bale and Amy Adams (The Fighter) the set up for greatness was there.
But we've seen the "right" cast fail many times before. Russell had the task of taking immense talent, personalities and a tricky story and turn it into a masterpiece.
And he did just that!
The art of the con is not a new premise, but the art of the con on a grand scheme along with the cons we play on each other in our everyday lives, put under a magnifying glass is what takes place in American Hustle. _Everyone is playing a role they are not comfortable with, everything is just a bit off, but in the grand scheme of things when the puzzle pieces come together, and everything is spot on.
American Hustle tells the story of con man Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and his sultry British partner Sydney Prosser (Adams) who get busted by the FBI and are forced to work with agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) in order to be absolved of their crimes. DiMaso uses their deceptive tendencies to rope them into the world of New Jersey's politicians, brokers and mafia members. As they play their roles, they develop relationships with Camden's Mayor and other string pullers like Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) and the web they weave gets more tangled by the word as many of the states big-wigs get caught between the con-artists and the FBI.
Accompanied by one of the best soundtracks of the year, Russell quickly sets the fun tone for the film with beautiful camera movements and illuminating the con work from Bale's Rosenfeld and Adam's "Lady Edith Greensly." From extravagant 1970's hair do's; Lawrence's grand up-do's, Adams' afro curls, Cooper's perm, Bale's horrendously hilarious comb over to costumes that will make your parents blush, you feel the rush to relive the Studio 54 days yourself.
Russell has become a master of characters and creating chemistry. Many of his recent films have been hits because of the combination of the two. He's at it again with distinct, comical and memorable characters in this film. Even smaller roles like that of Louis C.K. who plays DiMaso's uptight boss become memorable. From ice fishing stories to getting beaten senseless with a rotary phone, it's all part of Russell's vision. He even adds a well-hidden (not anymore) cameo from Robert De Niro as Miami casino mobster Victor Tellegio that adds more subtle brilliance to the big con going on.
The sultry performance by Adams and the chemistry between her and Bale in their early conning days is a joy to watch, and as it fizzles away and she moves on to DiMaso her character continues to morph and adapt to the con and all the pieces that are moving about. Adams gives the best performance of her career as she balances her British and American side, being sexy and seductive, embracing and divulging a side of her personality we have never seen in any prior role. Credit that to her range and the ability for Russell creating such a character and allowing Adams to thrive. I certainly see an Oscar nomination for her as Best Actress in a Leading Role and she may be strong competition for Sandra Bullock for her performance in Gravity.
Bale gives one of the best efforts of the year, putting on 40 lbs for the film; his antics, hand motions and overall gravitas in the role are to be laughed at and admired. I was absolutely in love with his presence on screen. Not to be out done, Cooper follows up his greatest career performance in Silver Linings Playbook _with his second best here. No coincidence, Russell is in the picture again! His desperation and desire to catch crooked politicians, give orders for the con, and be as bombastic as ever really allow him to show more of his range as an actor.
Then we get to the ever so flawless, yet under utilized Jennifer Lawrence who plays Irving's wife, the sassy Rosalyn. Her portrayal of the disgruntled housewife is about as hilarious and iconic of a character as her Katniss or Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook _when it comes to her career. From temper tantrums and rants about nail polish and microwaves, to the way she smokes her cigarette, it's the little nuances she adds make her the perfect, most-lovable neurotic Long Island housewife.
The film is full of iconic moments, DiMaso yelling for a jet, Michael Pena as the Sheik thinking the name of the operation is racist because he thinks ABSCAM stands for Arab Scam but the best of the best is the showdown between Edith and Rosalyn in a bathroom. Death stares are shared, bad words are thrown around and a kiss is planted. Then we get Rosalyn belting out Paul McCartney and Wings' "Live and Let Die" wearing yellow rubber gloves and cleaning the house, that is one of the best images of 2013 cinema.
It's a fun film, with a great, grand story that rests on the shoulders of it's director as much it does it's four central characters, I count anywhere from 9 to 15 possible Oscar nominations, depending on how generous the Academy wants to be. The only flaw I could nitpick at was the run time; it could have been 10-15 minutes shorter, but not harm no foul.
While many will draw infinite comparisons, calling this film a rip off or a copy cat, David O. Russell's latest work will easily stand on it's own two feet. Sure it borrows some familiar tropes from a Martin Scorsese picture here and there but it's the character, story and dialogue driven masquerade that makes the film so enjoyable.
Simply put, American Hustle is and will be a instant modern classic, one that will warrant the stop-whatever-you-are-doing-and-watch when it comes on television a la Goodfellas, The Godfather and countless others.