Thursday, January 2, 2014

"American Hustle"

The all-star cast of "American Hustle":  Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper,
Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence
Those expecting another offbeat David O. Russell flick along the lines of "Flirting with Disaster" or "I Heart Huckabees" will be surprised--but not disappointed--by "American Hustle." In place of the trademark O. Russell zaniness is a straight story driven by a stellar cast and an intriguing plot.  

The words "Some of this actually happened" appear in the opening credits. Though O. Russell has taken liberties, the main plot line comes from the Abscam investigation of the '70s. The film is outfitted with a rich palate of hues (powder blue, white and off-white, yellow/gold) and period detail--big cars, big collars, and tasteful pop from E.L.O., David Bowie, Steely Dan, and Todd Rundgren. 

Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a low-key, potbellied con artist. Amy Adams is Sydney
Wife and mistress face off in the lady's room
Prosser, his mistress and partner in crime.
Together they persuade clients to shell out money upfront for high-dollar, under-the-table loans which never materialize

When FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) catches them in the act, Rosenfeld and Prosser avoid jail by participating in a federal sting which lures a series of high-profile politicians into the FBI's net. First among them is Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), a New Jersey mayor. To his credit, O. Russell doesn't fall back on cheap, politician-bashing populism; Polito is involved in bribes, but is a family man of honor who genuinely wants to help his constituents by rebuilding the Atlantic City boardwalk.    

Ben Affleck, who originally helmed "American Hustle," was reportedly more focused on the investigation than the characters, which are what make this movie tick. Embedded in "Hustle" are endless push-pull variations of character interplay. 

The taciturn but seasoned schemer Rosenfeld clashes with the bombastic but inexperienced DiMaso on the size and shape of the investigation, something DiMaso also fights with his boss (Louis C.K.) about. The seductive Prosser and the hot-blooded DiMaso grow close and threaten to mix business with pleasure. Prosser and Rosenfeld are at odds about the state of their relationship; she wants Rosenfeld to herself, but Rosenfeld is tied down to his wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and beloved stepson. Rosalyn is a jealous and unstable stay at home mom, a wild card who may spill the beans to the people being investigated. Everything is in flux as the wheels turn and characters reinvent themselves.   

When these subplots crash into each other at the end, "Hustle" doesn't get bogged down in formulaic melodrama, as so many movies do. Instead, new realities emerge and O. Russell serves up a delicious twist that rights the scales of justice, even as it undermines law and order. Entertainment with brains, "American Hustle" is a fun and stimulating way to spend two hours.  

   Other "Truth and Beauty" film reviews:

                   "There must be something in the water: the magic of 'Muscle Shoals'"

                                                                        "Inequality for All"

                                                             "A spoiler-free review of 'Mud'"   


"Honest Abe Makes Sausage" (about "Lincoln")

"Errol Morris Strikes Again" (about "Tabloid")

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