If they handed out awards based on hair, this thing would win boatloads of trophies. Every single headliner in this thing has wild, distracting, outlandish locks. Whether curly, wayward, shellacked—it’s a show in itself. The rest of “American Hustle” is pretty good too. It’s not Top Ten of the year material, but it’s the best thing David O. Russell has put out since 1999’s “Three Kings”(which I guess is going to end up being his finest film). It’s obvious to me now that Russell doesn’t really have the stones to be a great director. He’s talented enough, and he has given us some interesting, semi-artistic releases the last few years. But he’s failing in living up to the promise of his 1990’s maverick output, and his true calling seems to be gathering groups of talented actors and allowing them the freedom to explore. And because of that, “American Hustle” has an abundance of irresistible confection on the outside, but contains a hollow center. But what’s on the surface is going to be enough for most audiences, and I guess that’s okay. Just as long as “American Hustle” doesn’t win the Best Picture Oscar, I can endure its plaudits. Check back if it does take the Big Kahuna though…I’ll have plenty to rail against. In the meantime, you can search “Argo” on this blog—you’ll get the idea.
The main plotline of “American Hustle” is a skillful composite of the infamous FBI ABSCAM operation from the late 1970’s. That fact alone gives Russell permission to go crazy with outrageous vintage clothing, high-voltage songs of the period(expect the soundtrack to be a huge seller)and the aforementioned marvelous manes. The names involved are changed, so it’s essentially fiction—but a little Googling will supply the actual inspirations. So, Christian Bale is a charismatic con man named Irving Rosenfeld and Bradley Cooper plays kinky-haired, FBI Agent Richie DiMaso. Amy Adams is seriously sexy as the object of both mens’ desires, as the crafty seductress Sydney Prosser a.k.a. Edith Greensleeve. Jennifer Lawrence impresses as Rosenfeld’s charming, unpredictable wife, Rosalyn. And Jeremy Renner is amazingly effective as nicy guy/corrupt politician, Mayor Carmine Polito. All of the principles are dynamite. And the energetic(yet scatter-shot)scenes do manage to coalesce into a mostly sufficient whole. Plus, there’s one brilliantly executed exchange between Bale and Renner, at about the two-hour mark, that tugs at the heart-strings while still appearing mesmerizingly authentic. It’s a stunner. And Amy Adams is asked to do some brave, risqué tantalizing, while exposing a sizable portion of her wares(sexual and otherwise). In some respects, she doesn’t stand out to the level of the rest of the cast. In others, the film is all about Sydney. Between “Man of Steel”, “Her”, and this, Ms. Adams is having quite an eclectic 2013.
I must admit that I was immediately impressed when “American Hustle” ran an opening scroll stating “some of this actually happened”. “Argo” could’ve learned a lesson there. This film is extremely entertaining because it’s obvious that the actors are having such a ball. But Martin Scorsese has been doing this kind of stuff for decades, yet Marty somehow managed to never play it quite this safe. Russell wants you to like all his characters a bit too much, and I believe that’s where his downfall lies. But Bale, Cooper, Adams, Lawrence, and especially Renner, have a vitality and effervescence that is so invigorating and so outlandish that you’ll end up forgiving a lot. The screenplay by Russell and Eric Warren Singer takes a complicated issue and strips it down to such a barebones presentation, that you understand it—without actually understanding it. And I guess that’s some kind of accomplishment in itself. It’s nothing to sneeze at that last year’s “Silver Linings Playbook” from David O. Russell, was the first film in 31 years to score at least one nomination in all four of Oscar’s acting categories. And amazingly, “American Hustle” may be poised to equal that feat. Hey, if we’re only giving points for entertainment value, this one is an undeniable triumph. Just try to avoid digging down too deep. Grade: B+
next review up: “Her”