Monday, December 2, 2013

American Hustle is an Entertaining Story about ABSCAM and the Con Game with a Great Ensemble

American Hustle (3 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by: David O. Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook)
Written by: Eric Singer (The International), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence

American Hustle starts out with a warning saying "These events happened" but maybe not exactly this way.  In the late 1970s and early 1980s the FBI ran stings they code named ABSCAM, short for Abdul Scam, the name of their front company.  This film takes these real life events, throws in their con men and women, and the game begins.

Hustle centers around Irving Rosenfield (Bale) and Edith or well Sydney Prosser (Adams) both of whom never wanted to be the victim in their lives.  Irving grew up watching his old man get pushed around with his window business, but as a young kid began the con breaking other people's windows so his dad would succeed.  Sydney, or Edith charmed her way into a job at Cosmo, and never looked back.  When the two meet at a party they fall madly in love with one another, and soon begin to run cons on people through their fake business.

While working one of their latest victims Richie DiMaso (Cooper) the two find out that he is an FBI agent, and instead of going to jail they get brought into this ABSCAM business with the FBI trying to catch other people in the con game.  What happens next is to fun to spoil, but needless to say this ensemble works so well together its hard to not smile as each aspect of the story unfolds.

Over the years David O. Russell has been a master at creating films centered around great ensembles from 1996's Flirting with Disaster all the way to this film.  Within this film their an ease to his direction, something more whimsical like his early work.  Within his last two films there was always something missing, the ensemble worked, but his direction did not feel cohesive enough or felt manipulative.  In this film O. Russell who directed and wrote the script with Eric Singer has created a much more balanced experienced that is more whimsical, and entertaining.  

The most successful thing about the film/script is defined by Bale's character himself, who defines morality as neither black and white, but rather grey.  Within this film O. Russell and Singer create more dense characters who live within the grey.  None of these characters are heroic nor do they fit within the cookie cutter modules O. Russell defined within his last two pictures, hence creating a much more rich ensemble piece.

Bale's performance was the strongest in the film, every time I watch him act I lose myself in his performances this has happened in almost every role he has taken on from The Machinist to his other film with O. Russell The Fighter.  You have to wonder if you are always being played by Irving, or where the vulnerability lies, but Bale is so convincing you can't see through the character. 

The rest of the ensemble is good, Cooper is hilarious, playing to his strength of comedic timing as an actor.  Adams is both striking to look at, but is better than I expected she plays the game as well as Irving, and there is so much strength within her performance.  The one person who did not fit into the ensemble as well was Jennifer Lawrence.  Critics have been singing her praises within this role, and she is funny, and does not do a bad job, but there is something lacking within this performance.  First and formost Lawrence's spotty New York accent is distracting; she could not pull it off.  Lawrence has always exuded maturity within her roles like Winter's Bone, and Silver Linings Playbook, but in this film she was playing a an immature person trying to be mature, and it did not work.

At the end of the day American Hustle is an entertaining film, with a great ensemble, solid direction, and great costume design.   

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