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American Hustle Review

22 Dec

american-hustleAmerican Hustle is a brilliant mess.

David O. Russell returns to the big screen after his Oscar-nominated Silver Linings Playbook, topping that movie in every department except dramatic payoff; in fact, dramatic payoff is essentially nonexistent in this film, one which weaves its way through a dizzying number of scenes that never really gel into a cohesive whole. Yet, Russell is excellent at providing the illusion that we’re going somewhere, a sliver of tension here and there that brings the whole situation to a precipice before immediately descending back into the comedic safe haven that permeates the film.

That’s essentially what the movie’s all about, isn’t it? All our characters are living on the edge, trying to give themselves that final push into stardom, into the lives they’re only living as fantasies right now. All the fancy clothes, the elaborate cons, the oozes of self-confidence: all part of the facade that a con man (or woman) has to put up in order to survive. In fact, Russell seems intent on using the time period to emphasize the characters’ grandiose dreams, taking on the style of Martin Scorsese–no one will top Marty, though–and his quick cuts and musical montages and whatnot. The director also plays with shifting allegiances and sympathies, so much so that sometimes the movie gets caught up in the elaborate mess of it all and it flounders.

Here’s what makes it work, though: the acting. For the whole two-hour running time, it seems as if we’re watching a very professional, complicated, and extended improv session, due to the fact that every actor just seems to be letting loose and having fun. Yet, amidst the bombastic nature of the performances, there is incredible nuance. Christian Bale and his beer belly plays Irving Rosenfeld, a con man who happens to be the moral center of the movie; credit should be given to Bale, Cooper, and Russell for drawing parallels between Rosenfeld and DiMaso (Cooper), then sending them down opposite paths without it all seeming too contrived. Jennifer Lawrence is also terrific as a woman trying to con herself, trying to make herself believe she’s in more in control than she really is. The fearless nature of her character makes her unpredictable and nearly unhinged, and Lawrence plays this perfectly.

I’d have to give Amy Adams the award for best performance, though. She plays Sydney Prosser/Edith Greensly, a British accent dropping in and out throughout the film. She’s attracted to confidence, but at times, we can see that she might have a certain lack of confidence, a feeling that she’s losing her grip on everything around her; that scares the hell out of Sydney, and there’s a particular wonderfully acted scene by Adams that I’ll mention in the spoiler section.

Ultimately, the movie leisurely strolls to its ending, robbing it of any dramatic heft, although honestly, I don’t think Russell was intending to build up to anything particularly cathartic; the film’s end reveal doesn’t exactly shock you as much as it is an “Oh, okay. Haha that’s pretty clever.” moment. What this movie is is an insanely entertaining ride that contains some of the best performances of the year; although I’d say I was a bit underwhelmed when I walked out of the theater, I was also thoroughly entertained.

SPOILER SECTION

-Robert De Niro’s cameo is brilliantly done, both spoofing his crime movie career and providing the most tension-filled scene of the film. Ultimately, though, having everything descend into violence territory wouldn’t be true to the film Russell was trying to make. Also, the one-liner right after that scene–“What are the odds an Italian guy from Miami speaks Arabic?”–is awesome, and Michael Pena is great as the Mexican Sheik.

-Louis CK. Bradley Cooper. Ice fishing.

-Certain scenes were hurt by the public’s preconceived notion that everything was supposed to be funny. For example, in the scene where Rosalyn breaks down in front of Irving, the people around us were laughing at pretty much everything that came out of her mouth. Sure, she’s mainly played for laughs, but there’s also something inherently depressing about her situation and her perpetual notion that she’s right.

-Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence are absolutely brilliant in that bathroom scene. Oh man, that is so well-acted.

-Now for that scene I said I would mention: Adams is amazing when she breaks down and confesses her true identity. You can see the relief and the desperation in her eyes, and it’s beautifully acted. Right after that is also one of the darker scenes in the movie; Sydney definitely felt some attraction to DiMaso beforehand, but his reaction to her confession is the tipping point; it also places the audience on her and Irving’s side, setting up that ending.

-Okay, that ending is just alright, in my opinion. Obviously, the movie never truly vindicates anyone, electing to have Sydney and Irving, while now “legitimate”, still living under an illusion. It’s fitting, but it’s also awkward.

-Carmine is a good character who’s hurt a bit by some meandering plot decisions, but he ultimately embodies the spirit of the film, and Renner is great.

END SPOILERS

-Louis CK is amazing.

-Adams and Lawrence are gorgeous, as always, and they kiss here. So there’s that.

-I can see this winning a bunch of awards; it’s a safe bet for the Academy.

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures, American Hustle

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2 Responses to “American Hustle Review”

  1. iseebeautyallaroundbyrobpaine December 22, 2013 at 7:39 am #

    I remember when AbScam took place and when I hear they were making a movie about it, I thought it would be difficult to pull of. The real story tended to be a bit convoluted.

    • polarbears16 December 22, 2013 at 11:26 am #

      Yeah, and one of the good things about the film is that it doesn’t exactly care as much about making it an AbScam movie; Russell adds in so much new stuff that it feels original and fictitious. Only “Some of this actually happened”, as the title card suggests.

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