By Gary Murray
Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence
Written by Eric Singer and David O. Russell
Directed by David O. Russell
Running time 138 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE
The 1970s had some of the worst music and some of the best films, usually at the same time. For every beat of disco music poured into the collective conscious, cinema audiences were thrilled with such films as The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, The Exorcist, and Dog Day Afternoon. It was a time of grit with real characters in life or death situations. As homage to that era, we get the retro flick American Hustle. It is one of the bright spots of the year.
With the opening slate of “Some of this actually happened,” the story is of a con-man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale). He is a paunchy, middle-aged guy with a knack for winning the ladies. He has the woman he loves Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) and a wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). Irving and Sydney have an elaborate con going with people who need money. Irving explains by saying, “The more you say ‘no’, the more they want in.” Sydney is just as much as a player as he is.
Eventually this con gets the ire of Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). He is a young FBI agent with a burning to make a name within the agency. He sees Irving as his ticket to bringing down some major figures in this post-Watergate world. Richie starts with Carmine (Jeremy Renner) a local politician who is trying to get Atlantic City back on the map with good jobs based in gambling.
In order to get those wheels of commerce greased, they need cash AKA payoffs to politicians. Richie gets more involved into the underworld, the more he becomes enamored with Sydney. The two begin a relationship on the side. As all this plays out, one begins to wonder who is actually conning whom.
The other wench in the works is Rosalyn. She does not truly love her man but sees him as a step up in the world. Through manipulation, she tries to get what she wants even if it is not good for her. There is no fear in the woman.
The film twists and turns upon itself as it lunges toward the payoff of cons. In the world of American Hustle no one and nothing is exactly what it seems. At times, the film is all over the place, which is a part of its charm. There are moments when it is The Sting and others when it is melodrama. There is no hint of where this film is going to end up.
David O. Russell is the man behind Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, two of the best movies of their respective years. With American Hustle, he does it again. The overall composition of this work is very early 1970s, with a gritty film stock and loud clothing. One believes that this is an old film and not a feature made in this digital age.
It has been said that 80% of directing is casting and once again David O. Russell succeeds. Like last year’s Silver Linings Playbook, this film features a quartet of brilliant performances. Christian Bale disappears in playing Irving. It becomes almost impossible to see the action star behind the over-comb and shades. One believes this frumpy mess of a man can get the best of any other player on the table. Just as outrageous is Bradley Cooper, our FBI agent who is more interested in his perm than in the wheels of justice.
Jennifer Lawrence is becoming the actress of her generation. Once again, she just nails her part. The character of Rosalyn is funny, conflicted, crazed and sexy all in the same beat. This is a woman who plays both sides to the middle and never lets up. The actress delivers this rapid fire dialogue with the confidence of a gunnery specialist. It is amazing to watch and an almost certain Oscar nod.
By far, this is the gutsiest performance of Amy Adams career. She shows no fear in looking bad. There are moments when she is an exposed wire. At times she looks perfect and at other times she looks like a woman half-way to death. Most actresses shy away from being less than glamorous but Amy Adams does not back down from the more basal elements of the role.
American Hustle is going to be on everyone in Hollywood’s short list in the acting category during award season. It may not win a ton of statues but it will be nominated. For those looking for something different this holiday season, this is the film to see.