Movie Review: American Hustle

Do the hustle.

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Fast-talking, funny and fabulous – American Hustle is an entertaining, awards-worthy film. Merging the casts of his two most successful films, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell directs a diverse and talented group of actors that fully embody the excess and excitement of the 1970’s.

Opening with the phrase “some of this actually happened”, the film is loosely-based on the late-70’s ABSCAM corruption scandal. The film tells the story of brilliant con man Irving Rosenfeld (a bloated and balding Christian Bale), who along with his equally cunning and seductive partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) is forced to work for a wild FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). DiMaso pushes them into a world of white collar crime, Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.

It has already been nominated for 7 Golden Globes, including best picture, best original screenplay, best director, best actor, best actress, best supporting actor, and best supporting actress. The praise is well earned. American Hustle lives up to the hype. It’s entertaining and an absolutely wild time at the movies. The performances are over-the-top and excellent.

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Christian Bale, as always, is intense and fully committed to his role. Gaining over 40 pounds of unflattering belly-weight, and sporting an elaborate comb over, Irving Rosenfield is an eccentric con man with a conscience. Bale personifies the overweight and overstressed Irving, with his look, his voice and his slouched posture. He looks ridiculous, not at all what you’d expect a smooth-operating con man to look like, but with his charm and confidence, he wins over his mark and the audience. For all of his bad deeds, including fake loans, forged art and empty deals, Irving has redeeming qualities, in his love for his son, and his genuine remorse in undoing good people.  Bale is able to walk this fine line of guilt and self-preservation with undeniable 70’s velvet-infused style.

Bradley Cooper is laugh-out-loud funny as ambitious and spastic FBI agent Richie DiMaso. His feverish intensity and manic energy drive the fast-pace and fast-talking style of the film. He’s perfectly matched against his straight-laced boss Stoddard, played by Louis C.K. These interactions are among the best in the film, when an exasperated Stoddard tries to talk the over-excited DiMaso out of his increasingly complicated schemes. DiMaso is constantly trying to do the right thing, but finds that he has a taste for the fast and much more exciting lifestyle of the con artist. Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper have great chemistry in their cat-and-mouse game of who’s playing who. There’s so much mistrust between the two characters – and the indecision seeps out into the audience. Do we root for Richie DiMaso, or do we side with the con-artists? It’s this back and forth that keeps the film interesting and fun to watch.

Jeremy Renner plays Carmine Polito, the passionate, volatile, New Jersey political operator caught between the con-artists and Feds. Jeremy Renner is new to the David O. Russell fold, and is perfectly charming and likeable as the one “good guy” of the film. Irving’s developing friendship with Carmine brings to light the ugliness of the con – the fact that good people are often collateral damage for the greater good.

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The women of American Hustle steal the show. Amy Adams is wonderful as the intelligent and sophisticated Sydney Prosser. She balances the boldness of her character with equal parts of indecision and vulnerability. Sydney is a person who feels the need to reinvent herself – to become anyone other than the person that she is. Her relationship with Irving is one of equals. As a business partner, she is cunning and intelligent, and as Irving’s mistress, she is jealous and vindictive. She’s brilliant and sultry in her low-cut vintage Halston wardrobe. Her wardrobe is as risqué as her actions – stringing along the affections of both Irving and Richie as they carry out a dangerous con.

Jennifer Lawrence is a scene-stealer as Rosalyn Rosenfield, the flighty loud-mouthed wife of Irving. Rosalyn is lonely, unpredictable and absolutely hilarious. Rosalyn is incredibly self-righteous and blunt – she is almost NEVER wrong. She has power, and knows how to use it. Irving calls her “the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate”. She holds her son as leverage against Irving leaving her, her marriage as clout against Sydney, and knows enough about the con to bring the entire plan crashing down. There’s an emptiness to Rosalyn that underlies all of her careless and harmful actions. She has a burning need for someone to just tell her she isn’t worthless, that she’s important and loved. Rosalyn isn’t completely unhinged (although her aggressive cleaning and “Live and Let Die” lip-syncing performance would have you believe otherwise), she shows that she’s actually quite smart when she’s allowed to be. Rosalyn could have become a ridiculous caricature without someone as talented as Jennifer Lawrence playing her.

This impressive cast is further aided by cameos from Robert DeNiro, Michael Pena, Paul Herman, and Jack Huston.

The film isn’t as clever as it thinks it is – but it’s an entertaining “who’s getting played” genre piece, with high energy and frantic spot-on banter. Critics are calling it Goodfellas meets Boogie Nights. The camera work is quick and clever, the direction is spot-on, the writing is slick and the soundtrack is perfect. It looks great, with its beautiful cast, amazing 70’s fashion and big hair (including that astounding comb-over).

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Undoubtedly, the best thing about American Hustle is its cast and the great performances that breathe life into the film. There are no real clear-cut good or bad guys, you can root for anybody and it’s just as easy to turn on them. Reinvention, deception, ambition and love fuel this interesting and entertaining film.

Take it from me… you most definitely want to Do The Hustle.

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