Arts Review, Movies

American Hustle

American Hustle featured image

David O. Russell, director and co-script w/Eric Warren Singer based on the FBI ABSCAM spy operation of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s

Starring: Christian Bale (Irving Rosenfeld), Bradley Cooper (FBI Agent Richie DiMaso), Amy Adams (Sydney Prosser), Jeremy Renner (Carmine Polito), Jennifer Lawrence (Rosalyn Rosenfeld), Robert De Niro (Victor Tellegio), Louis C.K. (Stoddard Thorsen), Jack Huston (Pete Musane), Elisabeth Rohm (Dolly Polito)

The buzz

The awards season is upon us with many film critics associations voting this month. So far American Hustle has won best film, best supporting actress (Jennifer Lawrence) and best script from the NY Film Critics and “J-Law” also won the Toronto Film Critics supporting actress prize. Many more awards are forthcoming. American Hustle will garner more prizes in the months to come (including a slew of Oscar nominations).

The genres

Caper film; satirical comedy; character study (-ies)

The premise

Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Adams) are hustlers in love with each other, Duke Ellington and creating big scams–until FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) sets them up and busts them. Out-hustled for once, Irving and Sydney agree to cooperate with DiMaso who wants to use their sweet talking talents to entrap a bunch of politicians including the Mayor of Camden, New Jersey, Carmen Polito (Renner).

Problems arise when Carmen turns out to be a genuinely decent guy, who is so dedicated to reviving Atlantic City as a gambling and tourist spot that he’ll even use illegal means to make it happen. Irving begins to like the guy—and so does his wife Rosalyn (Lawrence) who is brought out on double dates with the Politos. Trouble is, Rosalyn has a short fuse and is all too aware that her husband is having an affair with Sydney.

And Sydney is furious that Rosalyn is suddenly in the picture. So angry that she starts to spend time with Agent DiMaso, who is already attracted to her. With everyone, including FBI Agents, hustling each other, director David O.Russell decides it’s time to bring in more complications: the Mob wants “in” if Atlantic City actually turns into Las Vegas East.

Where does that leave Irving and Sydney? And Irving and Rosalyn? And Sydney and DiMaso? And Rosalyn and Mob guy Pete Musane (Huston)? Not to mention the Politos…

The performances

Jennifer Lawrence’s creation of Rosalyn Rosenfeld is a comic gem. She brilliantly evokes a self-possessed manipulative suburban wife who is still sexy and funny and lively enough to attract men–and even make women like her. She’s matched by Amy Adams, who moves effortlessly from pretending to be a British aristocrat to being a needy, funny and, yes, sexy American woman. Their confrontation in a fancy casino’s ladies’ bathroom is unnerving and hilarious.

Bradley Cooper is appropriately showy as the Agent DiMaso and Christian Bale offers one of his bravura character takes as the massively over weight, follically challenged Rosenfeld.

David O. Russell

Russell consistently gets great performances in his films. He seems to be developing an ensemble team—this is the second appearance by Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro (all previously in Silver Linings Playbook) and Christian Bale (also in The Fighter).

Russell has always made good films but his recent trio—The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle—shows that he’s capable of making an emotional connection with his audience while also critiquing the excesses of American society.

The skinny

American Hustle is smart, exciting filmmaking. Go to see superb performances—and enjoy a fascinating look at contemporary America.

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