Saturday, December 21, 2013

All the World's A Con: Review of "American Hustle"

Variety, you're wrong.

Peter DeBruge's declaration that American Hustle is an overrated mess, and that critics and award shows have been conned, proves that he missed the point about the movie.

Of course, it's messy, puzzling, irrational and everything else. That's because you have a bunch of people who play a role they create to survive. Irving (Christian Bale) wants to create a better life for himself, starting with breaking windows to help his dad's glass business, then going into fraud and art forging. One day, he meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), who fakes a British accent to help with his cons. They're also madly in love with each other. Too bad he's married to Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), who's a bit of a mess and has a young son.

Irving and Sydney, however, get caught by ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who wants to fight big white-collar crime and rise in the ranks. He uses these two con artists to create a sting operation to fight major white-collar crime. They target Camden Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). Polito's "role" is being a man of the people who wants to do right for his city and New Jersey...just as long his constituents don't know all the facts. Richie hopes to tempt Polito by getting him involved with a fake sheik in an attempt to get money to renovate Atlantic City. If it sounds like ABSCAM, the movie will only admit that "some of these events actually happened". It's fiction, but somewhat close to what really happened.

The great thing about this movie is that Irving, Sydney (in her Lady Edith persona) and Richie are all trying to play each other to get what they want. Sydney seduces Ritchie for her own gains, and Irving knows that. Richie wants to learn what they know about cons. It leads to one really bizarre triangle.

There's also some great set pieces, when Sydney seduces Ritchie at a disco, then he tries to "be real with her" only to find out the truth about her. There's Rosalyn getting friendly with some of the mobsters at a party Polito is throwing, then that confrontation with Sydney in the ladies' room that a lot of people will be talking about. The best one is when Irving, Politio, Richie, and their fake sheik meet mobster Victor Tellegio to close the deal...and Tellegio does something that threatens to ruin everything. Most of the cast have been in David O. Russell movies before, mainly The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, and he uses his familiarity with these actors quite well.

Christian Bale is incredible as Irving. Despite a chubby body and an awful comb over, you can't help but believe what he says. It's hard to believe this man is also Bruce Wayne, Dicky Ecklund and John Connor. Bradley Cooper is also great at Richie, who thinks he's better than the con men, but learns the truth in a hard fashion.

It's the women, though, that are THE reason to check this movie out. Amy Adams as Sydney could fit right in a noir movie, and she has the perfect mix of vunerability and deviousness. She is also beyond sexy here. Jennifer Lawrence, meanwhile, proves that she is much more than Katniss...again. You almost hate Irving for treating Rosalyn this way, keeping her in Long Island while he's with Sydney. She is an oddball, but someone you hope can emerge from all this. Of course, there's also that scene in the ladies room. Both Adams and Lawrence are likely to be in the Best Supporting Actress race, and either one would be a good choice.
Meanwhile, it looks like Louis C.K. could have a future in movies. After appearing in Blue Jasmine, he's great as Richie's boss. And, fans of Angel and Law and Order may spot Elizabeth Rohm as Polito's wife, although she looks much different.
Oh, and if Tellegio looks familiar, he was in at least one of Russell's movie before. A recent one.

Now, the movie starts with multiple voice-overs in a style that may be a bit too much like Goodfellas, but this is a long con that pays off at the end beautifully. It also has a great soundtrack that includes "White Rabbit" in Arabic. It's also very good at recreating the 70's, from the old Columbia Pictures logo from back then (the 2nd worst logo update ever, Warner Brothers "little w" is still the worst), to the clothes that look right out of Ron Burgundy's closet.

Easy three and a half stars for American Hustle, and maybe a few awards as well. So there, Variety.

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

Good review David. Never bores or is uninteresting, even at its messiest moments.