Pin It
Favorite

Perms and Passion 

David O. Russell makes a near-perfect crime film with American Hustle

click to enlarge film1-1.jpg

There are things that made me gasp and marvel at David O. Russell's audacity in American Hustle. He's tweaking Martin Scorsese, the master of a genre I don't know what to call. Crime drama, sure, but it's more specific: Epic ensemble historical crime dramedy. Narrower still: Epic ensemble historical crime dramedy bursting with insanely engaging characters who are impossibly real, impossibly ridiculous, whose stories you don't ever want to end. It was a genre of one before now: GoodFellas is a rare perfect movie, and it's one of my favorites.

Now there's American Hustle, also perfect, also instantly a favorite of mine. I can't wait to see it again.

Nobody here is particularly likable. Christian Bale and Amy Adams' con team are criminals who prey on desperate people and get off on it. Jennifer Lawrence is Bale's manipulative, passive-aggressive wife. Bradley Cooper is an FBI agent with more balls than brains (and he's got plenty of brains). But they're all utterly fascinating — like a 50-car pileup on the highway. The magnificent ensemble embody them and their absurd quirks — almost all revolving around scary 1970s fashion and hairstyles — with a gusto that's close to terrifying in the most deliciously entertaining way. Russell's script (with Eric Warren Singer) sets them upon one another, doing some very precise damage to abundant, exposed weaknesses and anxieties. The first such moment comes mere minutes into the film, something targeted so hilariously by one vain man at another vain man's insecurities, it ripped a snort of deranged laughter from me.

Hustle does that a lot. Everything here is perfectly modulated for humor, pathos and acrimony, all at once. Though it takes place in the late '70s — the fictional story is set among a real FBI operation from the era — the push-and-pull Russell sets up between the everyday scratching out of mere survival and the desire for life to be something grander and more exciting feels very much of the now. Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and his "genius" — and she is — partner Sydney Prosser (Adams) just want to get by; they kept their cons small and under the radar. When they accidentally try to con the wrong guy in undercover agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper), he convinces them to work with him to pull off a series of stings in exchange for staying out of prison.

Hustle is full of awesome '70s rock, lapels wide enough to put someone's eye out and terrible perms. And it's about Irving's increasing dismay, as Richie's towering ambition, worthy of a game of Jenga, leads them into bigger plots designed to bring down ever-more-powerful men — from mayors to mob kingpins to D.C. politicians — with ever-increasing, multimillion-dollar amounts at stake. It gets intriguingly tricky when Jeremy Renner as Joe Pesci as Carmine Polito, mayor of Camden, N.J., gets caught in DiMaso's snare. Polito, who wants to rebuild Atlantic City as a jobs-creating, economy-boosting measure, just needs investors... which invariably will involve the mafia. But is Polito a bad guy? Does he deserve to be the target of an FBI sting? Irving isn't so sure.

"Some of this actually happened," we are informed as the film opens. Hustle's genius is that it leads us to a point where we realize it's happening all the time, in a grimy, spiritual sense. "We're all conning ourselves," Irving informs us in voice-over early in the film, while we're still scoffing at how ridiculous he is, and how we couldn't possibly be like him. But the multiple layers of self-delusion at play among all the characters, and the events that carry them along in spite of their best intentions otherwise? That's something we can all see in ourselves, if we're honest. ♦

Trailer


American Hustle
Rated R · 138 minutes · 2013
Official Site: www.americanhustle-movie.com/teaser
Director: David Russell
Producer: Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison, Jonathan Gordon, Matthew Budman, Bradley Cooper, Eric Singer and George Parra
Cast: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Louis C.K., Jack Huston, Michael Peña, Shea Whigham, Alessandro Nivola, Elisabeth Rohm, Paul Herman, Said Taghmaoui, Matthew Russell, Thomas Matthews, Adrian Martinez, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Camp and Robert De Niro

Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for American Hustle

Tags: , , ,

  • Pin It

Speaking of Film, Review

Latest in Film

  • Good Sport
  • Good Sport

    Kevin Costner is back in a milieu that showcases him best in Draft Day
    • Apr 9, 2014
  • The First Half
  • The First Half

    Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac: Vol. I is more about characters than sex
    • Apr 9, 2014
  • O Captain! My Captain!
  • O Captain! My Captain!

    Captain America: The Winter Soldier shakes up the Marvel universe
    • Apr 2, 2014
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

What others are saying (14)

Chicago Reader Year in review: 2013 at the movies Year in review: J.R. Jones and Ben Sachs each pick their top ten. by J.R. Jones and Ben Sachs 12/24/2013
Portland Mercury American Russell American Hustle: David O. Russell's smarmy Scorsese riff. by Paul Constant 12/18/2013
The North Coast Journal Weekly Fire Beats Paper Sequel Smaug smokes Book Thief by John J. Bennett 12/19/2013
11 more reviews...
Memphis Flyer American Splendor David O. Russell and his cast invigorate American Hustle. by Greg Akers 12/19/2013
Gambit Review: American Hustle Ken Korman on David O. Russell's '70s set, scam artist flick. by Ken Korman 12/16/2013
Charleston City Paper Oscar, we need to start seeing other people Way back in 1932 filmmaker Josef von Sternberg resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, noting it had "nothing to do with art and even less to do with science." While it's likely this was the result of constantly losing to lesser talents, it was not without its truth. by Ken Hanke 01/22/2014
Connect Savannah Review: American Hustle Deliriously alive on screen, with an energy that's often electrifying. by Matt Brunson 12/25/2013
Colorado Springs Independent American Hustle cons its way into perfect movie status It's perfect, even if none of the characters are particularly likable. by MaryAnn Johanson 12/18/2013
Seven Days American Hustle How apropos that the con artist in David O. Russell’s new film has a sideline selling forgeries. American Hustle plays like an imitation of Scorsese. As with many knock-offs, the resemblance to the real thing can represent a technical achievement. The difference between the look-alikes the film’s principal character passes off and what Russell does here is that nobody’s fooled. Taken, maybe, but not fooled. This is no Marty party. by Rick Kisonak 12/18/2013
Creative Loafing Tampa What To Watch For: Movies American Hustle highlights an exciting season of movies to come. by Joe Bardi 08/29/2013
Tucson Weekly Bad Haircuts and Wide Collars American Hustle almost dares you to take it seriously by Colin Boyd 12/19/2013
Indy Week American Hustle's audacious take on a 1980s political scandal Revisiting a key political scandal in American Hustle by Neil Morris 12/18/2013
Creative Loafing Charlotte American Hustle is an American beauty Rating: **** by Matt Brunson 12/20/2013
The North Coast Journal Weekly Fine Burgundy Retro Hustle and Banks entertain by John J. Bennett 12/26/2013
Today | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue
The Dust Bowl: A Documentary

The Dust Bowl: A Documentary @ Spokane

Wednesdays, Thursdays. Continues through April 17

All of today's events | Staff Picks

or

More by Maryann Johanson

  • Space-Dog Continuum
  • Space-Dog Continuum

    Mr. Peabody & Sherman is an animated film, but it's sophisticated
    • Mar 6, 2014
  • Tied Up
  • Tied Up

    Labor Day teaches us that you might just fall in love with a kidnapper
    • Jan 30, 2014
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Sophomore Slump

    Muppets Most Wanted can't live up to its predecessor, but at least they're up front about it
    • Mar 20, 2014
  • More »

Top Tags in
Music & Film

Film


Review


© 2014 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation