Movie Review: American Hustle

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A small-time con man in New Jersey gets busted by the feds and finds himself caught up in an escalating plan to entrap crooked politicians and a mobster.

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David O. Russell, 2013

Businessman turned con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) falls in love with a girl he meets at a party, Sydney (Amy Adams), and together they set up a scam using Sydney’s British alias Edith. Eventually they push it too far and get sprung by FBI agent Richie DiMasso (Bradley Cooper), who locks up “Edith” for fraud and manipulates the two of them into creating a con for him to catch the big-hearted but corrupt (in a practical way) mayor of Compton, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). Richie’s aspirations are higher than just catching a corrupt mayor, though, and he gets Irving and Sydney in deeper and deeper, eventually creating a connection with the mob. Irving and Sydney try to get out of the whole they’ve dug, but Irving’s unpredictable young wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) could be the spanner that jams up the whole works.

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The cast of this movie is obviously phenomenal. Everybody is varying levels of good in this; Christian Bale, with his extra weight and combover, actually pales in comparison to the rest of the talent on screen. Bradley Cooper is charismatic and volatile as a fed/con-man with high hopes, a perm and a very short temper; Amy Adams is stunning as Sydney and as Sydney-as-Edith (with a bad English accent, possibly on purpose), who projects sex appeal and confidence even when she’s going under; Jeremy Renner is so empathetic as the family-minded mayor. Meanwhile, Jennifer Lawrence blows everyone else off the screen, as usual, as Irving’s incredibly difficult wife, the master of passive aggression. The theme of the movie is people being stuck and doing what they have to do to survive, telling the stories they need to believe about themselves, and her story is no different; she keeps Irving around to keep her afloat. She has few inhibitions and fewer life skills, and she’s mesmerising. The cast, mostly made of up David O. Russell’s repertory players, work very well together.

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So say we all.

The story of the film is cleverly balanced as well. It has the potential to be very confusing, with stories told from lots of different points of view spinning and weaving together, but Russell makes it work. It’s so well put together, the actors, direction and balancing act in the script. A lot of the appeal also comes from the brilliant and consistent 70s aesthetic that starts with the studio logos and runs through the credits. There just isn’t much underneath it all; it’s not a film that stays with you. This film is Martin Scorsese via David O’Russell, with lots of panning shots and energy but without the depth that Scorsese usually brings, or the condemnation. It’s not even a particularly good character study; these actors are brilliant and the characters are intriguing, but the ending feels cheap. The middle is the best part of the film, when its energy has built and the threads come together, but I left the cinema feeling not much of anything aside from adoration of Jennifer Lawrence.

American Hustle on IMDb

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