American Hustle

American Hustle photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgIrving Rosenfeld is a small time con-artist. He meets bewitching Sydney Prosser and the two join forces embezzling money from unsuspecting investors. Their talents are soon tapped by a cocky FBI agent named Richie DiMaso who‘s looking to prosecute political corruption in Washington. Carmine Polito is the mayor of Camden, New Jersey and one of Richie’s potential targets. In their interactions, Richie develops an attraction to the seductive Sydney. He tells her things in an attempt to turn her loyalties away from Irving. A dynamic love triangle evolves. Sydney keeps the two men (and the audience) in the dark as to who she is truly loyal to. Oh and let’s not forget that Irving is married to temperamental Rosalyn who complicates matters considerably.

The exuberant flamboyant swagger of the late 70s is an important component of American Hustle. It’s lovingly recreated with the care and attention of an aesthete. The soundtrack percolates with the joy of a disco dancing, pop song loving, classic rock connoisseur. Elton John, Electric Light Orchestra, Wings, The Bee Gees, Donna Summer are all represented, The music underscores the action and the tone is humorously tongue in cheek. Witness Christian Bale, who gained 43 pounds for the part, fastidiously fixing his “elaborate” comb over in the opening scene.

Fashion is a key component in the personification of the era. Jeremy Renner rocks a pompadour that would make Elvis jealous, Bradley Cooper sports a tight perm. He even wears curlers at one point. The guys don plaid suits, velour blazers, aviator sunglasses, exaggerated peak lapels and huge floppy bow ties. Not to be outdone by the men, the women raise swanky 70s fashion to new heights with body hugging wrap dresses. Amy Adams models a sequin gown with a plunging down-to-there neckline, channeling ringlets a la Bernadette Peters. Jennifer Lawrence has the sophisticated updo of a Charlie’s Angel with a slinky white dress that would look right at home on the dance floor at Studio 54. The era is conceived as it was and then multiplied by 100.

Abscam began in 1978 and was a major procedure run by the Long Island office of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to target corrupt public officials.  What makes a potentially dry subject so delightfully fun is the intricate way the plot unfolds. The movie boasts the best ensemble cast of the year. Director David O. Russell once again commands his impressive troupe of regulars: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence. Was frequent supporter Mark Wahlberg not available? Every performance is award worthy. They give life to a story about a complicated sting. But just who exactly is going to get stung? You’ll be guessing until the end when the true nature of the plan is revealed.

David O. Russell’s tour de force on the FBI operation begins rather modestly with the words: “Some of this actually happened.” That playful intro informs the viewer that while this is a drama, it’s also a bit of a comedy as well. American Hustle is the work of a dazzling showman that has logged years of experience under his belt. Russell manipulates fact vs. fiction with the singular vision of a confident filmmaker. We’re treated to a spectacular production that fabricates the pop culture excess of the late 70s in its unfettered glory. With its remarkable style and storytelling, American Hustle feels like the beautiful lovechild sired by Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995). Yes, comparisons to one of filmdom’s most accomplished auteurs is a compliment of the highest order. Call it Martin Scorsese’s greatest movie…that he didn’t actually direct.

22 Responses to “American Hustle”

  1. Agree with your review and your overall rating here. I was impressed by American Hustle, and clearly it’s going to win some awards. I agree with your Casino comparison too, especially since I’d put it in my review.


  2. To me, this movie is a film about film-making. Amy Adams’ character is an actress with her costumes and accents. Bradley Cooper’s is the producer, always asking for more money of a production gone way over budget and Christian Bale’s is the director whom everyone keeps referring to as having “vision.” Like with his last film, which was about his son, O. Russell is doing a movie that comments on his feelings as a filmmaker.


    • That’s an interesting take. I can see where the story might be interpreted that way. What statement do you think Russell is making about filmmaking?


      • I don’t think that he thinks of it as a con game, but this movie like with some of his previous films deals with losing control of someone or something that you care about, or having something that you care about slip away from you or take on a whole new life that you didn’t even expect. I suspect that Russell may feel this way about film-making to some extent.


  3. This was a very messy movie, but gosh, did I have fun! It was such a great time being around each and every one of these actors, doing just what it is that they do, and doing it such a high velocity. Without them, this movie would have just been a poor carbon-copy of a Scorsese flick. But somehow, they make it work wonders. Good review Mark.


  4. Great review, Mark. I haven’t seen this yet (I plan to on Tuesday), but you make me even more excited about it. I usually don’t like David O Russell, but you make it sound fun. I love your description of how he captures the setting of the 70s. You make me somewhat inclined to try on a plaid suit…


  5. I just saw this a third time and I finally think I’ve found a film that is better (this year wise) than SPRING BREAKERS…Spoiler Alert: When I post my Top 10, etc. this will be #1 (aiming for Midnight Wednesday) – I look forward to films like HER and others that will qualify that I haven’t seen and will add and shift things accordingly…


    • Even though this is getting great reviews, doing brisk box office and expected to get a slew of nominations, I keep hearing grumbling from my fellow bloggers that this didn’t live up to expectations. People must be expecting David O. Russell to re-invent the wheel, because this was extraordinarily good. So glad to hear you enjoyed it too.


  6. Superb review, Marky. This is my #1 most anticipated of the year and I can’t wait for it to open over here.


  7. You already know this, as you’ve already read my review . . . but I agree. This is an excellent movie. Just short of my current Top 10.

    Good review.


  8. Randi brissman Says:

    Great review Mark! Really enjoyed reading your review both before and after seeing the movie!


  9. Awesome music, hairstyles, wardrobe, acting and story. This movie has it all. Each actor did their parts very well. I hope Amy Adams earns an Oscar nod, she was amazing. Had a lot of fun here. 4 1/2 stars.


    • David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook was the first film in 31 years to receive Oscar noms in all four acting categories.

      It would be incredible if he repeated the feat again with this film too:

      Actor = Christian Bale
      Actress = Amy Adams
      Supporting Actor = Bradley Cooper and/or Jeremy Renner
      Supporting Actress = Jennifer Lawrence

      Everyone is deserving of a nomination but yeah, Amy Adams was a personal favorite of mine as well.


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