David O. Russell scores another hit with American Hustle.
The decade that glorified narcissism, polyester, and perms is the setting for David O. Russell’s latest movie, American Hustle.
The plot weaves the ABSCAM scandal with backstories of the major participants: An FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) with a fondness for curls, a portly, amoral yet romantic con man (Christian Bale), A mayor who wants to bring glory to his home state (Jeremy Renner), a chameleon with sharp business instincts who makes grand larceny look like a child’s game (Amy Adams) and a beautiful, manipulative woman with the intelligence of a stone--sorry stones--(Jennifer Lawrence).
What happens when the pursuit of justice is overwhelmed by an overweening ego? The gray areas of morality: i.e. participating in an illegal activity for a philanthropic outcome, the antihero becoming the hero and vice versa are themes that are explored in this movie. Each character, even the secondary ones are finely drawn. They cross and double-cross each other with aplomb.
FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) snags conman Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale with an outstanding 45 pound weight gain) and his cohort Sydney Prosser AKA Edith Greensley (Amy Adams) into his plot to snag more conman. He offers the duo immunity if the two can bring him four more conman. His ego and ambition keeps pushing Rosenfeld to grab more, and before you know it, they’re meeting mobsters in back rooms and ensnaring high level politicos.
Clocking in at 138 minutes, the movie is a visual and plot feast. There isn’t a dead moment (which can be problematic…say needing a bathroom break). Within seconds of the opening, you’re whisked into the glorious synthetic 70s. Judy Becker, Russell’s long time collaborator has an exquisite eye for detail. Each set, down to the minutest pieces, like the hanging spice rack in Sydney Prosser/Edith Greensley’s kitchen is an item that was popular during that era.
And oh, the soundtrack! Few movies accurately utilize music to underscore a scene, set a mood, or reinforce the action the way it’s done in American Hustle. Not only is the music chronologically dead on for the time period of the movie, it’s an incredibly effective tool to heighten scenes.
They only disconcerting is the hair! When first meeting Jeremy Renner’s pompadour, one is astounded by the height of it. It’s as if it is its own being. Seeing Cooper’s hair in teeny weeny perm rollers is a (quiet) moment of hilarity and as for Adams and Lawrence, when staring at their ‘dos one is fascinated, simply fascinated by the look and how it was achieved. In all honesty, the hairstyles could be secondary characters; the hair alone could win awards.
In short, this is another stellar and seamless movie from Russell. The cast is tight and perfect in their portrayals. No one, neither the leads, nor Robert De Niro in a surprise cameo, or Louis C.K. as DiMaso’s hapless supervisor, pulls a “star turn.” They all inhabit their characters as if they had stepped into their spines. These stars are actors doing a spectacular job.
Lawrence, once again proves she can play any age, any type. Christian Bale is probably one of the most underrated actors of this decade. His portrayal of Rosenfeld is masterful. Amy Adams, oh Amy Adams is as much of a chameleon as the character she portrays. At once vulnerable and strong, with a wily sense of survival, Adams owns this movie. Cooper truly is a wacked out, cocaine snorting, emotionally stunted FBI agent. Renner’s depiction of politico and family man Mayor Carmine Polito combines a deft touch of vulnerability, innocence and strength.
I was lucky enough to attend a screening from the NY Film Critics Series. The series is hosted by Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers. Films in the series have a Q and A session with directors and actors from the movies watched. For American Hustle, David O. Russell answered questions from the audience in the theater in New York City and the other 49 theaters who watched the movie simultaneously!
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