American Hustle: Stylish, Well-Acted... and Surprisingly Empty
- Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Release Date: December 13, 2013 (limited) December 20, 2013 (wide)
Rating: R (pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence)
Run Time: 138 min.
Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Michael Pena, Louis C.K.
Like many true stories adapted for the big screen, American Hustle plays it fast and loose with the actual facts. But in what Christian Bale (The Dark Knight Rises) describes as a largely improvisational effort, American Hustle ultimately highlights what director David O. Russell (last year's acclaimed Silver Linings Playbook) cares about the most: interesting characters.
In fact, when Bale was reportedly worried about how straying too far from script might compromise the plot, Russell informed Christian that he "hated plots." It was the people who mattered, he said. Trouble is, as stylish, well-acted and funny as American Hustle is, this particular cast of characters in this particular story doesn't always give the viewer much to root for.
While the narrative is inspired by Abscam, the late-1970s FBI sting that eventually led to the bribery convictions of several United States politicians, Russell seems far more interested in a different hustle altogether, namely how people are routinely in the business of conning each other.
In satisfying that objective, Russell and his all-star cast, including Amy Adams (Julie & Julia) and Silver Linings alums Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, are largely successful. In the film's hilarious opening sequence, we immediately get a sense of who Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) is as he's meticulously tending to his elaborate comb-over.
Unlike the bulk of Bale's films where he's been required to lose a ton of weight and tone up to a superhero level of perfection, here he's sporting a good 40 extra pounds and a potbelly that makes for great comic relief. The master of stealing a quick 5k from people who are desperate for a bank loan, he and his mistress/fellow swindler Sydney (Adams) also keep the cash rolling in by dealing in phony art and running dry-cleaning businesses.
But as good as Irving and Sydney are at fooling the naïve, their luck is about to run out if overzealous FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) has anything to say about it. Sporting a head-full of dreadful permed curls that perfectly encapsulate his tightly wound personality, Richie spots a way to capitalize on the couple's reputation. It involves blackmail, naturally.
With Irving and Sydney now forced to help Richie take down shady elected officials, this is where Russell really starts having fun. With strict adherence to gaudy ‘'70s fashion (crushed velvet, teased hair, ugly suit patterns and all) and its accompanying soundtrack (everything from disco to Elton John to Wings), it’s a joy watching these well-known actors disappearing into such over-the-top characters.
Perhaps the best of the bunch is Irving’s slightly unhinged, wildcard of a wife, Rosalyn (Lawrence). Routinely dismissed as ditzy, Rosalyn is a spitfire with a serious beehive and the potential to ruin everything if Irving isn't careful. Like she did so well in her Oscar-winning performance in Silver Linings, Lawrence excels at playing the crazy scene-stealer. Whether she's blowing up a microwave, which at the time is a culinary novelty she nicknames "the science oven," or crassly confronting her husband's mistress, she surely makes her presence known.
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