"American Hustle" Review: Craig's First Take

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The story of a con artist and his partner in crime, who were forced to work with a federal agent to turn the tables on other cons, mobsters, and politicians - namely, the volatile mayor of impoverished Camden, New Jersey.
4.5

There was a time earlier in David O. Russell’s career where George Clooney (working with him on “Three Kings”) couldn’t stand him, where Lilly Tomlin (“I Heart Huckabees) had an epic on-set meltdown because she couldn’t understand him. Well, just look at him now! “American Hustle” is a who’s who of actors he’s led to Awards glory (or the very least nominations) and is an overwhelming amount of evidence that he can work wonders with them.

Billed as a fictionalization of the real Abscam FBI sting that took place in the late 70’s, Russell has crafted a movie where the characters really jump off the screen and the actors really seem to know what they’re doing.

Christian Bale’s appearance alone is going to draw laughs, sporting a pot-belly (he gained 43 pounds for this) and one of the worst comb-overs in film history. He plays Irving Rosenfeld, the product of working class parents in the Bronx who grew up to be an art forger and con-artist to escape his impoverished beginnings.

But life doesn’t really begin for him until he meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a woman he bonds with over Duke Ellington records but who shares his love of the con. She even has a delightful British character, named Edith, that she uses to fleece people. Sexy, daring, and taking on a whirlwind quality, this is one of the best romances of the year. Even when we find out that Irving is actually married to Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), an unstable, emotionally manipulative woman with a son from a past marriage, Irving and Sydney make one hell of a couple.

The two are eventually caught by Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper, rocking the perm), an agent whose ambition and violent-streak far outweigh his sense, looking to use them in a sting operation to take down corrupt politicians. Using a clever ruse of an Arab Sheik looking to buy favors, they’re target soon becomes Camden, New Jersey mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner, the lone non-O’Russell alum in the cast), who is looking to rebuild Atlantic City but needs the funds in order to do it. As things progress, they also begin to get way too big, then the mob enters the deal.

These characters are so complex. Sydney soon discovers that all of her efforts to escape her past have led to a life that is nothing but a lie. She’s pissed that Irving is still trying to make things work with Rosalyn and so seems to be trying to find some kind of “real” with Richie, while at the same time she still must continue to “play” him a bit in order to have some way out of this situation if things go south.

Irving is a shyster but his heart is in the right place. He loves his adopted son and wants things to go cleanly with his wife, although she refuses to ever let that happen, but he genuinely just seems to want to placate everybody. He’s a realist who knows what it takes to survive, when things are getting too out-of-control, and when his crimes go deeper than just stealing money. One of the most touching elements here is the guilt he eventually feels after setting up Carmine, who he comes to see as a friend, for a fall.

Carmine is a man who’s intentions are never less than admirable but whose desperation to help his district is his real killer. But desperation is contagious here, as Richie wants to improve his career but winds up being caught-up in his own over-eagerness to the point he becomes something of a villain.   

The one who kinda exists on the fringes here is Jennifer Lawrence’s Rosalyn. She’s so unstable that she’s dangerous but what makes her charming is that she has such an insane logic to every thing that she does. She’s someone who has the power to get nearly everyone in this situation killed or be its key to success.  

Russell and co-writer Eric Warren Singer have crafted a sexy, charming, funny, and above all fascinating movie about people who lied, betrayed, went out on a limb, and plotted behind each others backs in the hopes of achieving the American dream.  In addition, the movie looks fantastic, from the wild 70’s Disco nightlife to the costumes, hair, and washed-out 70’s era aesthetic, and sounds even better (just take a look at the soundtrack to this thing).

But above all, look at the incredible attention to character detail here, which in every scene just seems to get richer and more authentic. You leave the theater feeling like any one of these actors is going to get nominated, and that Russell is one of the most unique directors in getting under a character’s skin working today.

 

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I got to see this movie as part of a New York Film Circle series (hence the photos) hosted by Rolling Stone Film Critic Peter Travers, which ended with a Q and A with the films director David O. Russell. I would firstly like to hope no one thinks I’ve overpraised the film in any way because of this because it is as solid and incredibly acted a motion picture as I’ve seen this year (and if you’ve followed me, you know i’ve seen quite a few films this year). If anything I feel like I haven’t said nearly enough to prove the outstandingness of a film sometimes (this film included) but I bring this up because I wanted to share with you a few tidbits I learned from the Q and A. So here are the top five things I learned in the entire 30 minute conversation:

5. He was the son of working-class parents. His father worked in a stock-rom while his mother was a secretary.  

4. O’Russell actually started out not wanting to be a filmmaker at all but a novelist. He said he actually was never much of a film-guy until much later in life but he was always interested in becoming a story-teller.

3. He said that there was a degree of improvising on the set of this film. As scenes were rehearsed and filmed, he and his actors knew what wasn’t working and as things went along, they all worked to come up with things that stunned each other while a scene was playing out.

2. Silver Linings Playbook was actually a script that was ready to be filmed before “The Fighter”. At one point it was set to star Vince Vaughn and Zoe Deschanel. It remains one of his most personal films for him because of his own son’s issues with Bipolar Disorder.

1. He credits “The Fighter” as the film that brought him back to the love of filmmaking, saying that he was getting overwhelmed with it and wasn’t connecting to it the way he once was. It made him want to get into the minds of characters again (he worked with each actor on this film to answer any questions regarding any specific elements regarding to character and scene) and deliver roles to his actors that he felt were worthy of their time.

Here are some pics of David O' Russel and Peter Travers at the event.

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