American Hustle

December 28, 2013 3 Comments


David O. Russell scores BIG with his newest film ” American Hustle,”  a delicious romp with a captivating script, a  stellar cast, great music AND (unlike Silver Linings Playbook) enough genuine heart to anchor it in real emotions.

Set in the 70’s, Russell uses the backdrop of the ABSCAM scandal to create a story large enough to contain the mega personalities of his characters(played spot on by Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K AND Robert DeNiro).  Each con manuever feeds and fuels the next, with clever twists and turns that seem to take each character deeper into the murk, but never too far from our willingness to invest in their sometimes zany, often self-deluded attempts to re-invent themselves.

The film is about deception and the intoxicating effects of  joining in the scam.  The sexual politics (Adams and Lawrence exude this in nearly every frame) remain front and center, oscillating between seductive  pleasure and danger.   Russell reminds us throughout his film that the motivation for such duplicity often lies in the poignant desire to be someone else (anyone else).  Each of the  scam-happy characters strive  to feel “real” and although there is much dialogue devoted to this topic (and the characters all talk A LOT!), there are also many visual moments that convey the same longing.

Much has been said already of Russell’s recycling of his leads from his previous two successful films.   Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)  and Christian Bale and Amy Adams (The Fighter) obviously work well with their director who clearly admires the talents of these actors.  I think, however, that it is Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), playing a New Jersey mayor drawn into the scam with the hope of rebuilding Atlantic City,  who provides a sense of genuine caring and devotion that prevents the film from slipping into hip satire.  His relationship with Bale allows us to CARE about what happens, not just grin at the hijinks.

I’m keeping my descriptions deliberately vague to prevent “spoiling” the joy of experiencing the film.

So, please go and HAVE FUN!

Jolyn Wagner

Must See Movie of the Week
3 Comments to “American Hustle”
  1. Bruce Russell says:

    Here are some non-spoiler questions to ask yourself when you watch “American Hustle” (which originally was going to be called “American BS”). (1) What is the relation of Syndney Prosser/Lady Edith Greensley (Amy Adams)to Richie DiMaso (Brad Cooper): fondness, sexual attraction, only sexual attraction, love, or is she just hustling him; (2) In the end, does Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) become a morally good person? If so, in what ways? If so, why?, (3) Does Richie DiMaso love Sydney/Lady Greensley?, (4) Do both Irving and Richie “hustle” others; if so, in what ways; if so, which “hustle” is morally worse?, (5) What, precisely, is wrong with “hustling”? (6) What, primarily, makes this a good film, the intrigue created by the numerous scams or the nature and development of the characters (I have not yet mentioned Jeremy Renner’s character, mayor Carmine Polito, but he is worth considering)?

    If you haven’t seen the film, these questions will be hard to remember. Take them with you to the theater. If you have seen it, why not respond to some?

    If you want a spoiler review of a film, see my comments on “Nebraska” on this blog.

    Happy New Year! And if you need a loan, contact me. I can get you 50K easy!

  2. Jolyn Wagner says:

    A 50k loan and only a 3k deposit(hey it’s Christmas)
    I think there was so much hustling going on that the characters lost their own sense of what was ‘real’
    I do think that Jeremy Renner fostered something real in Christian Bale who really did ultimately put his own agenda aside to try to undo the damage he caused to the mayor. Interesting that he paid the biggest price but perhaps that’s most fitting since he KNEW( and yes he did push the money away initially and was only going to use it to feed orphans etc)
    I think Irv DOES change as does Amy Adams
    Great dilemmas set to spectacular music!
    Whadda movie!

  3. Anna Djavaheri says:

    My reaction to American Hustle was a combination of admiration and dissatisfaction.

    I admired certain aspects of the film such as its effort in telling a story about how the depicted characters end up being hustlers. The narrative was a profound psycho-sociological study on the effects of society on characters and the effects of characters on each other and on society in return. And in response to the Bruce Russell’s question, I must say almost all characters were hustlers only to a different degree and for different purpose While the FBI agents hustling had a moral basis, characters like Mayor Carmine were placed on a thin line, in a way that he was hustling in a hope of improving the lives of people in his community.

    However, I couldn’t help noticing film’s very serious problems from directorial standpoint as it lacked a profound and effective visual style. Cinema is first and foremost a visual medium and American Hustle was heavily dependent on character’s long speeches. The shot design, camera movement and mise-en-scene which are the main jobs of a director and supposedly must play important roles in telling the narrative were reduced to a mundane storyboard just merely showing characters talk. In most parts, the shots lacked aesthetic and informational quality as it is expected of a cinematic narrative.

    In addition to the lack of profound cinematic language, halfway through the film the plot dragged and became sluggish and mundane. Despite all the buzz that is going on around this film, I agree with Peter Debruge of Variety who called the film “a sloppy sprawl of a movie” and criticized the plot, complaining that the improvisational performances overwhelm instead of adding to a coherent plot.

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