Friday, December 20, 2013


David O’Russell’s AMERICAN HUSTLE is a fictionalized look at the so-called Abscam scandal in the late 1970’s and late 1980’s, in which an FBI sting operation led to the arrest and conviction of several U.S. politicians for accepting bribes. With much of the operation still classified, O’Russell and his writing partner Eric Singer likely took a ton of liberties in writing the script to bring it to the big screen. But any or all historical liberties really don’t matter; AMERICAN HUSTLE has a lot more going than cops and robbers.
Brilliant con-man Irving (Christian Bale) and his equally brilliant con-woman/partner Sydney (Amy Adams) are forced to work for wild FBI Agent Richie (Bradley Cooper) to uncover a world of dirty politicians. Caught in the middle of it all is a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner), and Irving’s unpredictable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

AMERICAN HUSTLE sets itself up as a basic sting-operation film as cops and cons conspire together to take down the big fish through a series of deceptions. As the plot unfolds, the film becomes less interested in the politics and cons and the overall plot as the well-developed characters, which we spend a lot of time with, bounce off of each other with their traits, strengths, and faults. The steps towards the final sting operation come slow and are often in the back seat, and the overall story feels muddled and clunky…but what makes it work are great characters and the way they interact with each other. David O’Russell clearly wants AMERICAN HUSTLE to be more about the people than the surroundings, and the performances make it all tick.
Set in the late 1970’s, David O’Russell takes full advantage of the period clothing, music, and way of speaking. He clearly channels his inner-Scorsese in AMERICAN HUSTLE; using rock music, narration by different characters, a few freeze frames and plenty of slow-motion. There is a great amount of style in the film, which works perfectly since the 70’s were all about style anyway. Some scenes seem to drag on a bit too long, and a lot of the characters jabber on endlessly, and the film feels a lot longer than its two hours. But there are still a lot of great and important themes that O’Russell weaves into his narrative; love, marriage, friendship, the American Dream, doing the right thing…and it all blends together nicely.

Acting is tremendous. Christian Bale absolutely vanishes into the role and is nearly unrecognizable. His character is fat and balding with a terrible comb over. The physical transformation he pulls here, as shocking as it is, actually comes second to his great performance. Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence are more sexed up here than they have ever been, and both bring the (acting) goods. Adams, due to the nature of her con-woman character, seamlessly switches from a British accent back to American, and Lawrence hits a level she has not been to before. Jeremy Renner turns in his best work in quite some time.
The finale comes about by way of some incredibly clever twists and turns (and one magnificent cameo), while not forgetting to put the characters into a few moral dilemmas. AMERICAN HUSTLE has a lot to say about people, but not much about the history…and that’s OK.


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