"American Hustle" (2013 release; 138 min.) opens with the reminder that "Some of this actually happened", after which we are transported to New York, April 1978, where the mayor of Camden NJ (played by Jeremy Renner) is apparently being set up in an FBI undercover sting operation of some sort. We see the main characters yet do not know who is who exactly. Then in a further flashback (along with voiceover), we get to know Irving (played by Christian Bale), who meets Sydney (played by Amy Adams) at a party. They hit it off on all levels, and soon the are doing various scams. Comments Sydney: "the more you say 'no' to people, the more they want in!". Unfortunately in one of those scams, the 'victim' was an undercover FBI agent named Richie (played by Bradley Cooper). Richie eventually convinces Irving and Sydney to help him uncover corrupt politicians, and they set in motion a giant scam. Apart from all that, we learn that Irving is actually married to Rosalyn (played by Jennifer Lawrence), who seems to be a 'dumb blond'. At this point we are barely 30 min. into the movie, but to tell you more would ruin your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Several comments: first and foremost, this movie is another tour de force for director David Russell, after last year's Silver Linings Playbook, and The Fighter the year before that. From the moment the movie opens, Russell pulls us in and won't let go until some 2 hours later. At some point in the movie it becomes impossible to tell who is manipulating whom, and you'll just let go and be surprised as the movie unfolds. Because of the nature and era of the movie, "American Hustle" feels like The Sting-meets-Taxi Driver-meets-The Godfather, just a delight from start to finish. Second, there are so many outstanding acting performances in this movie, I don't even know where to begin. As scheduling fate would have it, I saw Christian Bale just recently in "Out of the Furnace" and now in this, in two roles that couldn't be more different, yet he displays an incredible and confidant acting range reminiscent of, say, a younger Robert de Niro. Speaking of which: de Niro makes a small appearance (10 min. max) that is better than anything he has done in YEARS. Amy Adams has never looked more gorgeous than in this movie. And Jennifer Lawrence (just weeks after seeing her in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) makes the most of her small role. Last, but certainly not least, the movie soundtrack (from the 70s) is nothing short of stellar. Check out the delightful scene where Sydney and Richie are dancing to Donna Summer's I Feel Love, and later when Rosalyn cleans the house while singing/dancing along to Paul McCartney's Live and Let Die. Sheer delight!
The movie opened today (yes, Thursday is the new Friday apparently) and I went to see it right away. The screening I saw this at here in Cincinnati was very well attended, I am happy to say. This movie truly is Hollywood at its very best: an intelligent, absorbing and yes, entertaining movie from start to finish, it could be for this year what "Argo" was for last year, frankly. "American Hustle" is HIGHLY, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
on March 14, 2014
"American Hustle" begins with one of the best opening scenes in recent memory. Before we see anything else, we see Christian Bale -- the guy who played millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne not that long ago -- meticulously arranging, pasting, and spraying into place a terribly elaborate and truly hideous comb over. It's funny, and it tells us volumes about this character. He's a con man, a master at the art of deception, and a very careful one. Every detail has to be exactly right, "from the feet up" -- all the way up to the fake hair.
But he's gotten himself into a situation where nothing's right, everything is slapdash, and he's out of control. It's only a matter of time before he ends up in prison, or worse. That's all thanks to Bradley Cooper, an FBI agent who caught on to one of his small time schemes, and is using it as leverage against him and his partner, Amy Adams into larger and ever more dangerous schemes, until they're looking at taking down powerful politicians, and ending up on the wrong side of the mob. Bale isn't happy about any of this; he's a small fish happy in his big pond; he'd rather be scamming gambling addicts than having a sitdown with Robert De Niro.
Some of this actually happened. The film is based on the "Abscam" scandal from the late '70s, loosely. The historical situation is pretty crazy in and of itself, and indicative of the dysfunction in American government and culture in the '70s. ("Argo" this ain't.) In a nutshell, the FBI grew tired of being reprimanded by Congress, so the feds launched an operation against Congress itself. It involved a fake "Arab" seeking to invest millions into New Jersey's slumping economy, and willing to grease whatever palms necessary to get the casino licenses, citizenship and anything else needed to get the job done. Abscam brought down several Representatives and one Senator on bribery charges, but it also resulted in something called the "Civiletti Undercover Guidelines," which basically was the Attorney General telling the FBI to never do anything like it ever again.
It's a situation a little too messy for a straightforward film adaptation, but David O. Russell likes to make messy movies. Russell's signature talent is his ability to both create and control chaos onscreen. He loves to set crazy characters on colliding paths, and knows there are infinite ways to play crazy. It's hard to imagine any other director managing the scenes Russell manages, scenes in which three or four or five crazy people bounce off of each other at odd angles in fantastically entertaining ways. He's also skilled at swinging from zany to serious (and back) at the drop of a hat. It's kind of like watching Real Housewives: these people are nuts, but we care about them anyway. Actually, it's infinitely more entertaining than Real Housewives.
Russell has developed a consistent stable of actors he likes to work with -- or who like to work with him. Rumor has it he's an extremely demanding director, known for feeding improvised lines to actors from alongside the camera during shooting. Also, there's a video on YouTube of him ranting and raving at Lily Tomlin during the shooting of "I Heart Huckabees," though Tomlin afterward said that everything was fine between them and she'd be happy to work with him again. Some can't take the heat, and some thrive in it.
Amy Adams is better in Russell's movies than in anything else she's done, and so is Bradley Cooper. Cooper has earned Oscar nominations for his two performances in Russell's films, despite playing basically the same character in both of them (manic and naive, goal-driven, desperate, prone to violent outbursts but somehow forgivable and even innocent.) I'm not convinced yet that Cooper is a great actor--I'd like to see more range in his performances -- but he has without a doubt created a very watchable character performance that can span multiple films. In that way he's kind of like Al Pacino or Woody Allen.
Christian Bale, on the other hand, is a man of a thousand faces (and mannerisms, accents, etc.) If the Oscar always goes to the actor who uglies up best, Christian Bale got robbed. He gained 50 lbs and looks terrible. I guess that's not as impressive at Matthew McConaughey losing 50 lbs., but McConaughey is still rodeo-sexy through most of Dallas Buyers Club. Bale just looks bad here, and that's good. It's amazing to me that the same guy can play Batman, Patrick Bateman and a crackhead boxing has-been who once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard (or maybe he just tripped.)
But Jennifer Lawrence, who can seemingly do anything, might be the best part of the movie. She plays Bale's wife, whom he can't seem to get away from (he calls her "the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate.") She routinely steals scenes by playing absolutely, but uniquely and distinctly, bats*** crazy. She's the opposite of her nail finish--she's mostly rotten and a little bit sweet, and you can't get enough of her. You just keep coming back.
"American Hustle" is a zany, screwball ride, but it's also a movie about survival and reinvention. It's about people who are conning themselves, who are desperate to get out of their situations and maybe their skins. Ironically, the only characters who have a firm grasp on their real identities are the cons. Bradley Cooper thinks he's a hotshot FBI agent, but really he's small potatoes with too much ambition and not enough ethics or loyalty. Jeremy Renner thinks he's a big-hearted mayor who does everything for the people of New Jersey, but he's on the take, and in bed with the mafia. Best of all is Jennifer Lawrence, who thinks she's taking care of her family by setting the microwave on fire and "motivating" her husband by nearly getting him killed. Amy Adams, meanwhile, grows tired of playing a part and just wants someone to be real with, and Christian Bale knows he's a small time crook and has no appetite for bigger fish. In the world these characters live in, ambition is the greatest sin -- ambition and lying to your friends.
I loved Louis C.K. as Cooper's boss. The ice fishing story!
Amy Adams British accent is terrible... but is it terrible on purpose? She's a stripper from Albuquerque, after all. If so, what does it take for an actress to purposely affect a bad accent?
I didn't like Jeremy Renner. His performance was the only one in the film that didn't work for me. He's supposed to be New Jersey through and through, but take away the hair, and he might as well be from Orange County.
This keeps getting compared to Scorsese and "Goodfellas," but the similarities seem superficial to me (the costumes, big songs on the soundtrack) Russell definitely has his own voice as a director.
on March 13, 2014
I hate to sound rude but.... the truth is, my perception is that those who gave this movie horrible ratings or claim they "fell asleep" is simply because they just could not keep up with the plot. You have to truly pay attention to every detail, but boy does it pay off. The twist ending rivals that of Catching Fire (for those who didn't read the books.) The acting is phenomenal, there was no stand-out because every character played his/her role to absolute perfection. I especially loved Jennifer Lawrence as the psycho, bi-polar wife of the famous con-man, as she manages to come across as someone you absolutely cannot stand while maintaining a sexy, untamed woman's pull which you can easily see why she has such a pull on Bale. The chemistry between all the main characters is something you can't make up. The wit of the con artists is impeccable, perhaps because it is based on actual events, but Adams, Bale and Cooper pull it off in a sense that would make you think they themselves were the subjects of the sting. I saw this in theaters, and it was one of those movies where you debate peeing your pants because you don't want to miss a second. It's hard to compare this to any other movies because it's so unique, but if I were to compare it to other movies of the same caliber that I myself like to give potential viewers an idea of what they might get.... I'd say if you liked Casino, Goodfellas, Blow, etc., you'll love this. Also, I saw this with FOUR friends, all of us with different tastes in movies, two of us were excited to see this, two were not, but we all left giddy and wanting to go back to the time period it happened and live the lives of the characters (even though they were criminals, we wanted their lives... goes to show how well they sold their parts!) So again, I can't help but speculate that the people who claim they were 'bored' or 'fell asleep' simply did not understand the movie because maybe they were expecting a Hollywood Blockbuster with predictable plot twists and endings like most movie-goers. Don't let those people deter you from seeing this. If you end up truly hating it, which I doubt, at least you
on March 11, 2015
You have seen the preview commercials on television with the all caps “THRILLING” outtake, which unfortunately diminishes the word when associated with nonsense like Pacific Rim or other action drivel. However, sometimes you sit at the screening of a film and you are tingling with tension and excitement at what you are viewing. The director David O. Russell and lead cast from last years’ excellent “Silver Linings Playbook”, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, reconvene and add an unrecognizable Christian Bale (except for the talent!), Amy Adams (the sexiest she has ever been) and Jeremy Renner just for kicks, and the result is the best American crime film since Goodfellas. Scorcese should see this film to revisit what he used to do great! @kmptop10
on May 21, 2014
This movie lacked something that I can't quite put my finger on. It may have been that there were too many characters that were somewhat poorly developed, or that the storyline made it nearly impossible to care for/root for the primary characters. Also, I found Bradley Cooper’s character just plain annoying. Given the cast, perhaps I was expecting too much, but the actors are limited by the script. Overall, this was an ok movie. I didn't hate it, but I wouldn’t watch it again unless it's to enjoy the 70s-tacular fashions.
on January 5, 2014
I had been looking forward to seeing American Hustle since it was announced. I almost saw it on release day, but I have an aversion to watching movies with people who are more concerned with noisily eating their weight in popcorn than watching what is on the screen. Yesterday's viewing was still pretty packed, but I am glad I didn't wait any longer. The movie is a lot of fun.
There's something a little jarring about David O. Russell's movies. I think it's the amount of conflict present between his characters. Have you ever been to a party or a gathering where people are all talking at once? It can be chaotic. There might be little gems of information hidden in the cacophony, but it's easy to miss. If you have seen The Fighter, you'll know that Russell's characters were often at each others throats. In Silver Linings Playbook, the central romance wasn't fully realized until the participants had survived numerous arguments. American Hustle feels similar in many ways to both those movies, although the canvas is broader and more colorful.
The movie opens with the statement, "Some of this actually happened." Well, the 1970s certainly happened, but I doubt that many people resembled the main characters in this story. The opening scene sets the tone by showing Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) fixing his hair. This is an elaborate process involving glue and a comb-over. IMDB states that Bale gained more than 40 pounds to play the role, and herniated two discs while perfecting his slouching posture. It's quite a transformation. That opening scene is a clear statement that American Hustle is not going to be a serious drama, and the movie rarely deviates from that initial statement of intent.
Rosenfeld is an interesting character. He spends most of his time conning people out of their money, promising loans for those who can make a down payment of $5,000. He meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) at a party and the two form a partnership and are attracted to each other. The plot becomes more complicated when an intended mark turns out to be FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). To avoid going to jail, Rosenfeld and Prosser agree to help DiMaso convict four corrupt officials, starting with Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner).
What follows is a complete mess. Does Rosenfeld really love Prosser? Will he ever leave his wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence)? Is Prosser in love with Rosenfeld, DiMaso, both, or neither? The story contains a delightful cameo from another Russell regular, a science oven, a fake sheikh, great music from the 70s, fantastic performances from the main cast, twists, humor, intrigue, and plenty of laughs. Is it coherent? Not completely on the first viewing. Is it worth seeing? Absolutely.
Jennifer Lawrence isn't in many scenes, but she's fascinating every time she appears. Bale and Adams dominate most of the story, and are ably supported by Bradley Cooper, who has become a much better actor than I once imagined. It's interesting to see these Russell favorites make fun of themselves. Lawrence is borderline crazy, Bale almost unrecognizable, Adams more manipulative than most of her former characters, and Cooper willing to act like a fool. Is this the sort of chemistry that develops when directors continually use actors that they have worked with in the past? I love seeing directors such as Lynch, the Coens, Darabont and Tarantino going back to the same actors repeatedly. I think it adds something to the performances.
Like a Tarantino movie, American Hustle is more about style and the journey than the actual plot. It's simply fun to watch these characters interact. Don't expect a clever scam along the lines of The Sting. Just enjoy the wild ride. I already can't wait to see it again, despite its imperfections. I have a feeling that I will end up loving the movie once I have allowed it to sink in and with repeat viewings. The same was true for Silver Linings Playbook and Jason Reitman's Young Adult.
If you're perceptive and still reading, you might have noticed that I haven't talked much about the plot. This is one you need to experience without knowing too much going in. If you're a fan a Russell, or the main actors, you'll come away with a smile on your face. If you're not, this movie might just convert you.
For now, the overall score is 4/5.
on April 19, 2014
Another 2013 film dealing with another edgy subject, the con game, with a wonderful cast doing excellent work. Bale is a master at burying himself in his character. The personable con man who is strangely normal in many respects, a married man with a child he loves, working at odds with the law, picking up a brilliant partner, a girlfriend who is perhaps even better at the game than he is. He is drawn into a sting operation by a cop who is full of himself and intending to put paid to the game and become the most important man in the force.
The game involves naïve and savvy politicos, some of whom are taken in by the game and the other, the Mafia cleaner, who is not. The bad guys, Bale's character and his girlfriend, are the true savvy players who try to bring the game to a satisfactory end, for whom? Themselves, the mob, the cops, the politicos? Twists and turns and an insight into the game that is interesting in itself.
on September 27, 2014
The plot is complicated. The characters are complicated. They all try to extricate themselves from the GIGANTIC MESS in which they are entwined.
Following plot takes quite a bit of hard work so you must pay attention. The acting is flawless, especially from Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper. Amy Adams was a bit over the top--they need to stop putting her in V-neck dresses that plunge down to her waist. She is a great actress without all the window dressing.
Once you figure out the end, it is extremely gratifying.
David O. Russell just sounds like one of those 1970s directors, or maybe it’s David O. Selznick I’m thinking about, who was a great producer in the 30s and 40s of many Hitchcock films, "King Kong" and most notably "Gone with the Wind". So David O. Russell really doesn’t compare to Selznick other than the similarity of name and the fact that the big ‘O’ in the middle seems to signify an association with quality films and Oscar nominated and winning films.
Russell has been flirting with Oscar trophies for 3-years now. First he directed "The Fighter", then "Silver Linings Playbook" and now he will most certainly be nominated for a third time for "American Hustle". He may not win again, but it would be a safe bet that at least one of the actors he cast in "Hustle" will walk away with trophy. While Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Christian Bale and Jeremy Renner were all outstanding in their performances, I’d have to admit, it was Jennifer Lawrence that plays the smaller role in the film and steals the scene every time she appears.
"American Hustle" is a throwback to when films about heists, swindles and double-crosses were the talk of the town. It’s the kind of film that tests your true love for cinema. As the film plays out and we swirl around in Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Adams) a.k.a Lady Edith Greensly’s worlds, it’s like a test of patience. Irving and Sydney find themselves getting deeper and deeper into trouble and the movie is exhausting with the banter, plots and plans. Your head will be literally spinning just hoping to keep up with their mess. While it was slow moving and littered with a barrage of oncoming information, it’s exactly how you should feel watching the film, because it is exactly what Irving and Sydney are dealing with.
"Hustle" is a dance along the fine line that is right and wrong; survival and ruin. It is exactly what happens when a script, that should be nominated for an Oscar by the way, can either be mundane and boring or lifted above that by the performers of the roles. The performers in "American Hustle" do just that and then some. With humor and passion and great writing, you get caught up in the tornado of right and wrong, trying to figure out how to get off, just like Irving and Sydney.
on April 18, 2014
American Hustle was good and cinematically appealing. Christian Bale stole this movie, he did an amazing job!! When Robert Deniro arrived on set, despite having met Christian Bale previously, he did not recognize his fellow actor-That's how good his makeup and mannerisms were. The movie is exciting, and in part based on some actual events. However, there was no way this movie was gonna win in the Oscar acting category against Dallas Buyers Club. But unlike Dallas buyers club(which was amazing and I now bow down to Mathew Machanauhay) I have watched American Hustle more than once-it's an enjoyable movie. While, Wolf of Wall St was seriously crazy, I preferred American Hustle.