Movie Review: American Hustle

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Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Michael Peña

Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence, Running time 138 minutes, Crime/Drama

Compare to: Carlito’s Way (1993), Jackie Brown (1997)

It’s always funny to see films set in the 1970s. Whether you grew up in the time period or not, all the clothes, the curls, the lingo; it immediately sets the tone to comedic whether it’s intentional or not.

Thankfully, director David O. Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook) knows what he’s doing and plays with the tone to his, and our, advantage.

Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) is a hustler- in his work, in his family, and to the rest of the world. And his girlfriend Sydney (Adams) isn’t much different. But as good as the are at what they do, it doesn’t keep the pair of con artists from getting caught by the overly ambitious FBI agent DiMaso (Cooper) who wants them to help him bring down the rich and corrupt in exchange for their freedom. So the trio get to work on Irving and Sydney’s biggest scam yet.

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This freaking guy was Batman.

Bale’s look in the film will and almost should be the first thing to grab your attention her. As an actor, we have another role where Bale has taken his weight to extremes. In 2004’s The Machinist, Bale lost weight to an unhealthy degree of 110lbs from about 175. He then gained it back for the Batman films and here he’s sports a nice gut and a terrible comb over. Let it never be said Bale doesn’t take his job seriously. But you probably already knew that.

All of it, every detail, goes into helping create the most convincing portrait of a man that’s so good at conning “the other guy” that it seems he believes his own lies at times. With Scorcese-like voice overs from different cast members, we get a good picture of what’s going on in everybody’s head throughout the film. And it’s usually not very friendly.

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This year’s earlier Action/Adventure/Mistake Now You See Me relied on every twist and turn to “Ooh” and “Ahh” you and though it’s not entirely fair to compare two movies that are virtually nothing alike, Hustle allows you to sink into each character’s role before they yank the rug out from under you rather than say “POW! You’re impressed aren’t you? Yeah, you are.” From the opening shot to closing, just about nothing or no one is who they seem.

It’s tough to say who stands out in a movie where everybody is at the top of their game. One moment you stand behind a character’s own convictions and ideas; even if you don’t entirely agree with it, you can’t help but see their twisted point of view…only to turn on them mentally and side with another character.

You can see why Irving would want to run from his crazy wife (Lawrence) to be with someone who appreciates him…but Lawrence’s portrayal of the squawking mom doesn’t give us a heartless nag, but a woman who just sees things differently than pretty much everybody. Then as soon as you pity her, she goes and screws things up for…well, everybody.

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It’s this kind of give and take that writer/director Russell excels at and it’s exactly why his last two films have has us coming to the theater over the holidays to enjoy movies that feature characters that live in the “extremely grey” area, as Irving puts it.

Positives- Costume design, music, writing all at the peak of quality.

Negatives- Excessive language may wear on some, some viewers may find it exhausting to try and care about characters with very few or no good points for two and half hours.

Grade: A-

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