Mark’s Movies — American Hustle

By on December 27, 2013
American Hustle

“American Hustle” is one of those films that just screams Oscar bait, and it’s no wonder, with a cast and crew like this one involved. The film is practically an all-star reunion of director David O. Russell’s past few projects, including Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, past Oscar winner Robert DeNiro and Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper from his last project, “Silver Linings Playbook” and Oscar winner Christian Bale and nominee Amy Adams from his proceeding project, “The Fighter.”

Also joining in the fun are Oscar nominated actor Jeremy Renner (“The Hurt Locker”) and Emmy winning stand-up comedian and actor Louis C.K. (TV’s “Louie”) and plenty of other respected character actors, such as Jack Houston (“Boardwalk Empire”- fans will be happy to know his face is fully visible here!), Elizabeth Röhm (“Law & Order”), Michael Peña (“End of Watch”), and Alessandro Nivola (“Jurassic Park III”).

In short, this is primo awards season material, and is clearly aiming for a Scorsese-like sweep, in its tale of con artists, government agents using questionable methods, corrupt politicians and the Mob. Or at the very least, Paul Thomas Anderson, circa “Boogie Nights.” Those are some pretty lofty aspirations, and though the end result doesn’t quite live up to those high standards, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, either.

The story revolves around con man Irving Rosenfeld (Bale), who’s looking to expand his operation from a dry cleaning business, an art gallery front (that itself sells forgeries) and a loan shark scam to higher ground, fleecing people in a higher stratum of society for bigger profits. Enter Sydney Prosser (Adams), an American posing as a Brit with high-end connections, who Irving falls for and makes his partner in crime. She reels them in, he takes it from there.

All is well until Sydney gets busted by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) and the two are forced to cooperate in a sting operation. If all goes well, the two will have immunity, but first they have to snag some high profile clients, including members of the Mob, as represented by (who else?) DeNiro’s character, and a handful of politicians. Will our anti-heroes pull it off, or will they get caught up in a web of lies and get themselves killed?

Not exactly helping matters is Irving’s drunken, gossipy wife, Rosalyn (Lawrence) and Richie’s uncooperative boss, Stoddard (Louis C.K.), who’s constantly rolling his eyes at Richie’s ridiculously extravagant requests for massive amounts of money and hotel suites- and sometimes entire floors! Not to mention Sydney’s iffy accent and Irving’s hesitation to try and pull one over on the Mob, understandably.

All of this adds up to a movie that’s always watchable, if a bit overlong, and never as good as you hope it will be. That’s not to say it isn’t worth seeing, simply that it’s better to go in with slightly lowered expectations overall. This isn’t nearly as good as Russell’s last two projects, “Silver Linings Playbook” and “The Fighter,” but nothing to be embarassed by, either. With that cast, it’s never boring, and the soundtrack is fantastic, veering from the familiar (Donna Summer, Elton John, Bee Gees) to lesser-known tracks from artists known (ELO/Jeff Lynne, Steely Dan) and unknown (Evan Lurie, John Ross, a fab “White Rabbit” cover by Lebanese artist Mayssa Karaa in her native tongue). There’s even a show-stopping musical sequence set to Wings’ “Live & Let Die” with Lawrence’s character on a drug-induced cleaning tear as her son watches on in awe…as do we.

The cast is, of course, fantastic, with Lawrence in particular stealing every scene she’s in wholesale, even though she’s sadly not in it that much. Adams is also impressive in an out-of-character, sexy role that requires her to be walk around scantily-clad (and occasionally less) for most of the duration of the film, which she handles with surprising aplomb. It’s easily her most adult and lived-in performance to date, and might well spell Oscar nomination, at the very least.

Also something to behold is Bale, whose elaborate comb-over is the craziest thing I’ve seen outside of that movie “Kingpin” and who did the Method actor thing and gained a fair bit of weight so that his beer belly is more than a little noticeable. Batman, this guy is not. Louis C.K. also does some fine work as Cooper’s eternally beleaguered boss, who can’t tell an anecdote about his past to save his life, thanks to Cooper’s constant interruptions and motor-mouth rants.

So, a whole lot to recommend here, but not quite the classic you hope for overall. Still, not too shabby, considering how quickly Russell’s been churning these movies out lately. If you’re a fan of his and of any of the aforementioned cast members, you’ll want to see this, but keep in mind it’s more low-key than you might think, though the ending is suitably satisfying on the whole. As long as you don’t expect too much, you should have a decent time with the flick. I’ll give it a solid B+. It could have been more of an Oscar contender, but as it stands, it gets the job done just fine.

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
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