Review: American Hustle
PLOT: Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale) is a small-time con artist, scamming a few thousand here and there from gullible marks. When he’s busted- along with his beautiful accomplice and lover (Amy Adams) by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) the two are forced into helping bust a crooked politician (Jeremy Renner) whose deeds soon lead them into a sting operation that could bust members of congress and the mob.
REVIEW: A movie like AMERICAN HUSTLE has the potential to be a breakout hit along the lines of ARGO. It’s smart and sophisticated adult fare that’s good enough to jockey for major awards consideration, but is also entertaining and fun enough that it could (and should) be embraced by the same mainstream audiences that made that movie a $100 million dollar hit. It’s a strong follow-up to THE FIGHTER and SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK for director David O. Russell, even if it’s a thoroughly different kind of movie.
Truly, HUSTLE feels like O.Russell’s most ambitious work since THREE KINGS. As the opening text states, “some of this actually happened” so clearly the facts aren’t going to get in the way of us being told a good story. ABSCAM, where crooked politicians were videotaped taking bribes from a phony sheik actually did happen in the late seventies, but that story is secondary here.
Rather, this feels like a caper-comedy done with the epic scope of a Martin Scorsese crime epic (with a nifty cameo alluding to that), complete with narration that jumps from character-to-character. Christian Bale’s Irv Rosenfield is our “hero” here, being a sleazy con somewhat redeemed by his love for Adams - his alluring cohort, and his adopted son, mothered by Jennifer Lawrence in a scene-stealing turn. Sporting an elaborate comb over- the process of its construction lovingly detailed in the first scene- and a big gut, Bale’s Irv is outrageous but always likable. However, while Bale looks like a clown, with his velvet suits and always-present sunglasses, he’s actually playing the character with the biggest heart, and when the film takes a serious turn, it’s Bale whose performance is truly affecting.
Meanwhile, Bradley Cooper’s performance is along the same lines as his manic character from SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, only given a more narcissistic and dangerous edge. Perhaps trying to outdo Bale’s comb over, Cooper sports a perm that makes him look like a chia pet, and seems to be having the time of his life as the zonked-out Richie. Cooper’s hilarious as Richie gets wilder and wilder as the film goes on, and some of the best scenes in the movie deal with his interactions with his out-witted, nice-guy superior (played by Louis C.K). Of the guys, Renner probably has the least showy part, as the pompadour-wearing politico targeted by Bale and Cooper. Renner is great, although it feels like this performance will be underrated.
Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence are also both excellent here. Adams has certainly never looked better as the alluring Sydney aka Lady Edith, who adopts a haughty English accent and various cleavage revealing dresses to pull in her marks. This is really one of Adams’ best performances ever, and if anyone deserves an Academy Award nomination, it’s her. Meanwhile, Lawrence chews the scenery as Bale’s insane trophy wife, and steals every scene she’s in. She’s both terrifying and sexy throughout.Like the best period movies, the music of AMERICAN HUSTLE plays a big part in setting the film’s mood, and there are terrific set-pieces score with both period hits like Elton John’s ‘Goodbye Yellow-Brick Road’ and Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, while other, deeper cuts prove O. Russell’s not just digging out all the old well-worn tunes. Lawrence’s demented sing-a-long/dance to Paul McCartney & Wings’ Bond theme song ‘Live & Let Die’ is a particular standout. Truly, AMERICAN HUSTLE is a blast from start-to-finish and a major accomplishment for all involved. While it will no doubt get a bunch of Oscar nominations, it has broad appeal beyond that. It’s one of those movies that everyone- from critics to people simply looking for a good time- will enjoy.