I Saw American Hustle
December 26, 2013
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When I first heard that David O. Russell was making a movie so soon after he directed the ultra-successful Oscar winning Silver Linings Playbook, I was a bit skeptical. Russell has never worked a production so quickly. He very famous took a six-year break between 2004’s I Heart Huckabee’s and 2010’s The Fighter. Russell is a notorious control freak on set and has feuded with stars like George Clooney (including an alleged fist fight between the two). Anyway, I was skeptical that American Hustle wouldn’t be as good as the previous few Russell films because of the quick turn-around on production. Well, I was wrong – American Hustle is a fantastic film filled with fun performances. It puts character over plot in the best way possible, and is also the funniest movie I’ve seen in theaters all year.
American Hustle is the story of three con artists. Irving Rosenfeld (a fantastic Christian Bale) is a small-time New York City businessman and loan shark. Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams, who is also fantastic) is an ex-stripper with a dream of making it big in the city. Richie DiMaso (a manic and fun Bradley Cooper) is a borderline insane federal agent out to make a name for himself. The three team up to form a loose and unlikely alliance to take down corrupt politicians in the New York/New Jersey area in the late 1970s. Complicating matters are Cooper’s boss (a wimpy but hilarious Louis C.K.), Bale’s wife (an hilarious Jennifer Lawrence), a budding friendship between a remorseful Bale and Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner, also good), and a big-time Miami mobster (Robert DeNiro, in a cameo role). The plot and characters are loosely based on the real-life ABSCAM controversy, with character names changed for the film production.
This is an incredibly funny film. Cooper is hilarious as a disheveled, manic FBI agent. He’s constantly on edge, consistently high on cocaine, and isn’t afraid of anybody. As an actor, Cooper is as fearless as anyone this side of Nicolas Cage. Jennifer Lawrence, who is the definition of a supporting character, is equally hilarious. Her bored Long Island housewife is just too much fun. Bale hasn’t been this good in a film since 2010’s The Fighter, a film he won an Oscar for. I would be very surprised if he wasn’t nominated again for this film. His portrayal of a low-life businessman and wannabe loan shark is just great. Amy Adams is also fantastic, and brings real depth to her character almost solely with her facial expressions and body language. I would be surprised if she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar as well. I really think Sandra Bullock has major competition in the Best Actress race after seeing this film.
The various complaints I’ve seen thus far about American Hustle have focused on its lack of a focused plot. The film runs just over two hours and does contain a lot of extraneous material (a subplot about a love affair between Cooper and Adams could have been shortened up or even left on the cutting room floor), but the lack of focus really didn’t bother me all that much. These characters are just so much fun to spend time with. Maybe the parts with the Miami gangsters could have been a bit more integrated into the main plot, but that would have only made the film longer. American Hustle is really a film about its characters, and its characters are fantastic. This is one of the most fun films I’ve seen all year, and probably slides into the top spot as my favorite film of the year. Bale, Adams, Cooper, Renner, and Lawrence lead an absolutely phenomenal cast. This combined with its stranger-that-fiction story makes American Hustle one of the best films of the year.