FlixChatter Review: American Hustle

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Based on the ABSCAM scandal of the late 1970s, con-artists Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser are forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso.

When I first heard David O. Russell was making this film, I was immediately drawn to it mainly because of the cast. It’s combining the best of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, and just like many of O. Russell’s films, this one is one wild but entertaining ride. Right from the start, the movie gives me the giggles as it shows a good 10 minutes or so of Christian Bale‘s Irving Rosenfeld meticulously putting on his toupee. That alone is worth the price of admission if I were to pay full price at the cinema. I mean, it’s as if retro Mr. Bruce Wayne has been enjoying too much of his um, retirement. Bale is in his transformative role once again, gaining 55 pounds for the role, going the opposite route of what he did for The Fighter. He’s convincing as always, what with the Jersey accent and full-on con-man smarmy-ness, though at times his amazing transformation actually takes me out of the story a bit.

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The film shows how Irving became the con-man that he was, which he seems destined to be since he was a kid. It’s as much a story about Irving as it is about Sydney Prosser, his lover and partner in crime, played with wild abandon by Amy Adams. Posing as a British national, Sydney is seductive and perhaps even more cunning than her lover. Inconsistent British accent aside, Adams totally disappears into her role. Hard to believe this is the very same innocent Giselle from Enchanted. She also has a sultry chemistry with Bale, in fact, I tweeted right after the movie that there’s more sparks between her and fat, balding Batman than with the Man of Steel earlier this year 😉

As Irving and Sydney’s cunning schemes grew bolder, inevitably it caught the attention of the Feds and ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) soon got both working for him, hustled them into exposing Jersey power brokers and mafia underworld. It seems like an enchanting proposition but of course things are never as simple nor easy as they seem. It’s later revealed that Irving has a sexy but unpredictable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who makes things even more complicated as the plan progresses. The 22-year-old once again displays that she could effortlessly portray someone much older than she is and hold her own against actors twice her age. Her deliberately campy performance steals scenes every time she appears, especially the bit involving a microwave.

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The story seems to shift the focus between the developing relationship of Richie & Sydney, as well as Irving and Jersey mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). The latter ends up revealing Irving’s sense of humanity, what’s left of it at least, as he gains more sympathy for Carmine. The film plays like an ensemble cast of sort, with not one but a trio of protagonists (Irving, Sydney and Richie) with power plays entwining between the three of them. Though Cooper still has a long way from becoming one of my favorite actors, I’ve grown to appreciate him more and he does have dramatic as well as comic timing. There’s a cameo from Robert DeNiro which is one of the film’s highlights, though Michael Peña is the scene-stealer here in a brief but hysterical supporting role. I’ll let you see it for yourself what role he’s playing. Oh, stand-up comedian Louis C.K. is a hoot as Richie’s boss as well, that was an interesting casting that works pretty well. I think the cast is what makes this movie so enjoyable. I know a lot of people compare O. Russell’s direction style to Scorsese’s. Now, even if there’s some similarities, I don’t know why someone of O. Russell’s stature would ever need to copy someone else’s work.

What I think is the flaw of the film is the slightly off pacing and lack of emotional gratification. Through all the topsy-turvy scenarios, I don’t really have any emotional connection with any of the characters. Though the 1970s set pieces, costumes, vibe, etc. is convincingly retro, I didn’t always feel so immersed in that world as I had hoped. So in the end, it never became anything more than a fun and amusing ride featuring solid performances. Given the premise, there are crazy situations involving sex, drugs and a whole lot of scheming, but having seen The Wolf of Wall Street though, that one makes American Hustle looks like a PG-13 movie!

“I believe that you should treat people the way you want to be treated, didn’t Jesus say that? Also, always take a favor over money. Effin’ Jesus said that as well.” – Irving Rosenfeld

The screenplay was originally titled American Bullshit by Eric Warren Singer and was listed at #8 on the 2010 Black List of un-produced screenplays. O. Russell ended up co-writing the script for this one, which features some riotous dialogue and fun use of music. I especially enjoyed the scene of Rosalyn cleaning her house whilst singing Live and Let Die, complete with vinyl yellow gloves on. I had fun with this one, it’s as amusing as you’d expect and more freakishly hilarious as I thought it’d be. I don’t even mind watching this again when it’s out on dvd.

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4 out of 5 reels

So have you seen American Hustle? I’d love to hear what you think!