American Hustle is dazzling look at decadent 70s
While not as smooth as his 2012 Oscar darling, David O. Russell’s latest, American Hustle, is easily one of the year’s best.
The film is loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal in the late 1970s. As part of the FBI investigation into stolen property trafficking corrupt politicians were jailed.
Russell and co-writer Eric Singer tip the tone early on with the disclaimer that ‘Some of this actually happened.’ Hustle is all but a guaranteed Oscar nomination lock thanks to the impeccable cast and Russell’s fun-spirited direction. Thankfully, there’s a lot more laughs than the regular Oscar favorites.
Russell opts for a three-person narrator format. Professional con man Irvin Rosenfeld (Christian Bale, Out of the Furnace) tells the realistic side. His girlfriend/partner, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams, Man of Steel), has a more grounded take. Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper, The Hangover Part III) is the impulsive FBI agent forcing them to help take down corrupt officials.
While Irvin’s adept at playing others, he’s only a sucker for his volatile wife, Rosalyn, which could derail his plans. Jennifer Lawrence, (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) perfectly channels a Casino-era Sharon Stone. Lawrence is fantastic here and will likely be a top contender for Oscar gold.
Cooper establishes Richie as an overconfident dominant figure. He’s unafraid to impose his will on anyone, including his by-the-book boss Stoddard Thorsen (Louis C.K.).
Richie’s end game involves taking down Carmine Polito (a likable Jeremy Renner, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters), the beloved mayor of Camden, New Jersey. But with so many unpredictable personalities, Richie’s plans have little chance of going as smoothly as he anticipates.
In the last two years, Russell has guided Adams and Cooper to Oscar nominations and Bale and Lawrence to Oscar wins. The trust level they have in him is evident. They all go outside their comfort zones in creating very distinct characters.
Bale is the best chameleon actor in Hollywood right now. Once again he manages to get completely lost in a role. Irvin isn’t Bale’s normal authoritative character, which he further illustrates by packing on a reported 40 pounds, giving Irvin a slouch and constantly getting flustered when reaching for his medication. Bale shows a surprisingly vulnerable side here and allows Irvin to be a sympathetic figure even as he’s conning people.
Lawrence is lively and fierce, but Rosalyn is less a character than a combustible element in the film. She’s made unforgettable only by Lawrence’s energetic efforts at stealing all of her scenes. For all the supporting actress award buzz Lawrence is receiving, Adams actually delivers more as hers is the more complex role.
At times, the script seems to get away from Russell and Singer. The narrative doesn’t come together as tightly as it should. Fortunately the cast is there to bail those dead scenes out. When this level of talent is on its game, the script inconsistencies just doesn’t seem as important.
While too many filmmakers get their kicks mocking the 70s style, Russell treats the era with a certain air of respect. He celebrates the decadence — a nightclub scene is one of the film’s highlights — and carefree nature of the time. Michael Wilkinson’s fantastic costumes help further set the environment. The soundtrack featuring Donna Summer and Elton John completes the journey back to the disco era.
Don’t get distracted by all the quick talking, double-crosses or backstabbing. Just enjoy some of today’s best actors doing what they do best in a film that will leave you feeling anything but ripped off once it’s over.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel/Annapurna Productions