2013, R, 138 mins.
2013, R, 138 mins.
Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld / Bradley Cooper as Richie DiMaso / Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser / Jeremy Renner as Carmine Polito / Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld / Louis C.K. as Stoddard Thorsen / Jack Huston as Pete Musane / Michael Peña as Paco Hernandez / Elisabeth Röhm as Dolly Polito
Directed by David O. Russell / Written by Eric Singer
Writer/director David O. Russell has always had a impeccable knack for getting into the headspaces of his tightly wound up and emotionally damaged characters, as was on display in his two previous films, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and THE FIGHTER.
newest film AMERICAN HUSTLE - a sprawling, vivaciously stylized, and
frequently hilarious 1970’s caper/period film – continues on with his
tradition of being drawn into personas that emotionally unravel as the
story around them does the same. At
its finest, the film is an intoxicating character piece, showcasing a
litany of colorful and distinctively flawed human beings trapped in
predicaments that they unavoidably have no control over.
In some form or another, they all seem to be headed for
self-implosive defeat…they just can’t see it coming until it’s too
this is a film about con artists, it’s of no surprise that the central
characters here are, yes, manipulative hustlers.
In the film’s bravura opening scene, we meet Irvin Rosenfeld (a
pot-bellied Christian Bale, a nice sight to see especially after
witnessing him starve himself to death in past roles in THE
MACHINIST and THE FIGHTER), a con man that sits in front of the
mirror for what seems like an eternity – in an unbroken shot – as he
assembles the layers upon layers of his massive comb-over (with some slick
application of glue). It’s
an offbeat and eccentric manner to begin a film like this with, but it’s
crucial to building an understanding of this man: He makes a living
meticulously building upon lie after lie until it seems like the truth to
others, so it’s noteworthy to see him groom himself with such exactitude
and focus. Granted, no amount
of extra hair glued in place will ever hide the fact that Irvin is
seriously going bald. One way
or another, this dude is a total swindler.
is all business, though. The
Bronx man runs a series of dry cleaning businesses, but he makes most of
his money operating a fraudulent loan business that takes $5000 dollar
retainers from poor saps on the promise of a huge payoff later…only
nothing else happens afterwards. Despite
his criminal activities and rather unhandsome façade, Irvin does manage
to find love at a local pool party, where he has a meet-cute with Sydney
Prosser (Amy Adams, as fetching as ever), and after sharing a moment over
a classic record, the two become inseparable.
When Sydney discovers what her new boyfriend really does, she
compellingly does not flee away, but rather offers her services, posting
as a fake Londoner with “bank connections.” Irvin’s business then takes off in a big, big way.
at the zenith of their success and hubris, Irvin and Sydney do get caught
by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper, rocking a perm like it never
went out of style), but he does not want to put them in the slammer.
He acknowledges their skills as hustlers, and instead wants to
enlists them in a clandestine mission to capture some crooks – including
the mayor of Camden, New Jersey, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), some
congressmen, and even members of the mob – while they get involved in
some rather illegal business moves. With
no other recourse, both Irvin and Sydney agree to the massive con game,
but the longer it progresses the more every player begins to see obstacles
in their paths. Sydney and
Richie begin to develop a romantic kinship, which infuriates Irvin.
Irvin begins to forge an actual friendship with the mayor, which
leads to a crisis of conscience for him.
Lastly, Irvin’s hotheaded and big-mouthed wife Rosalyn (Jennifer
Lawrence, whom Russell directed to an Oscar win in SILVER LININGS
PLAYBOOK) may not be able to keep secrets of the mission to herself,
therefore jeopardizing everyone.
HUSTLE is based on fact…sort of.
It draws its story from the actual FBI ABSCAM sting operations of
the late 70’s that tried to bust corrupt government officials, but
Russell assures us from the very beginning (via a sly title card) that “some
of this actually happened.” The
key here is that Russell and screenwriter Eric Singer are not interested
in dissecting the facts regarding ABSCAM, but rather use it as a jumping
off point to investigate the inner drives – and foibles – of their
characters. The con itself
within the film is important, to be sure, and the script takes great
delight in showing con upon con…upon con…to the point where
we’re guessing what’s happening as much as the characters eventually
do. Yet, the real thematic
undercurrent here, beyond the actually caper itself, is how all of these
characters become wrapped up within a tight bubble of their own deceptions
to one another. AMERICAN
HUSTLE is really about the lengths that desperate people – even
Cooper’s FBI ladder climbing agent – will go to in order to ensure
their own positive futures.
period films are tricky, because too much attention to the raw garishness
of the times can be distracting, whereas not enough fails to immerse
audiences in the period. Russell
finds that tricky middle area, I think, of having fun with the high
fashion, big haired, and colorfully tacky accoutrements of the Disco era,
and he does so with a bit of mocking disdain and subtle reverence as well.
Michael Wilkinson’s costume design hits a solid bulls-eye
(especially when it comes to Adams' plunging necklined dresses, which
are numerous), and cinematographer Linus Sandgren frames the film with a
loving and painstaking eye for the most gaudy of pop culture details from
the bell-bottomed-heavy era. Combining
that with an eclectic grouping of the time’s more famous tunes blaring
on the soundtrack and Russell’s playful and energetic camera work leaves
AMERICAN HUSTLE feeling like a work of supreme stylistic confidence and
showmanship. Russell has
never made a more fully lived-in and evocative looking film.
film’s exhilarating sense of style would be nothing without great acting
to fill in the gaps, and Russell – as he has demonstrated time and time
again – generates virtuoso performances from all his cast.
Bale has the Herculean task of making the slimeball that is Irvin a
somewhat tragic and sympathetic character as the story progresses, and he
nails the inherent contradictions of his role quite masterfully.
Cooper’s hot-headed and authority defying agent is also a
treasure to behold, as the actor really gets under Richie’s skin and
conveys his escalating sense of unease with his mission.
Amy Adams just may get her fifth Oscar nomination for her work as
Sydney, who crafts a multi-layered portrait of a woman that casts multiple
deceptions on the men around her, but oftentimes is just deluding herself.
And Jennifer Lawrence, at such a young age, has a manner of
stealing scenes away from her more experienced co-stars. Decked out in a high bun hairdo, gaudy makeup, and a toxic
level of verbal aggression, her Rosalyn is an unpredictable force of
nature in the film.
has been made by critics comparing AMERICAN HUSTLE to Martin Scorsese’s GOODFELLAS,
which is apt in the sense that both films – despite their insular tone
and feel – have an epic narrative sweep (that, and both are set in the
same relative period and contain characters that desperately try to find a
way out of their increasingly volatile situations that may end up killing
them). In the end, the similarities are all but superficial, even
when Russell does borrow many stylistic cues and editorial choices from
Scorsese at times. AMERICAN
HUSTLE is a real original in the sense that it combines elements of a
crackerjack crime/caper comedy with an immaculately cast and performed
ensemble drama…and it’s all fused together with a dazzling display of
filmmaking self-assurance and virtuosity by Russell.
The sheer pleasure of AMERICAN HUSTLE is just going along for the
film’s ride, and this is certainly one of 2013’s most unforgettable ones.