Movie Review: American Hustle (2013)

Posted: January 19, 2014 in Comedy, Drama
Tags: , , , ,

american-hustle

Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) runs a dry cleaner’s store in the Bronx.  Irving then branches out into making loans, where he doesn’t loan any money but is guaranteed a non-refundable payment of 5,000 dollars.  Irving also dabbles in selling forged art.  Irving is basically a con man. He meets a woman named Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) at a party and the two all in love with each other.  Sidney adopts an English accent and becomes Lady Edith, and they con more local businessmen of their money.  One day, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) walks in to Irving’s establishment and asks for a loan.  Richie is really an FBI agent, looking to root out local corruption.  He will let Irving and Lady Edith walk if they give him four corruption convictions.  Irving gets Carl Elway (Shea Whigham) convicted, but DiMaso has his eyes on a much bigger target, the mayor of Camden New Jersey, Carmine Polito. (Jeremy Renner)  Richie is planning on a scam to trap Polito using a fake Arab Sheik, Sheik Abdullah (Michael Pena) to provide one million dollars in funding to renovate Atlantic City, using Polito as an intermediary. Richie has a suitcase of money waiting to give Polito as a kickback, but Polito gets squeamish, and it’s up to Irving to close the deal.  Does he succeed?

I like American Hustle, but it’s largely because it does a good job approximating the 1970’s and because of strong performances by Bale, Cooper, and Renner.  For all the good in this movie, I’ve noticed a troubling trend.  Movies are taking scandalous behavior and making it seem frivolous and lighthearted.  ABSCAM was a serious scandal in the late 70’s, many politicians went to jail for bribery, ABSCAM was another example of the dysfunction between government and the governed in the wake of Watergate.  But writer/director David O. Russell chooses to fictionalize ABSCAM, and make it seem like the FBI is running amok and it portrays Polto as a hero.  Russell uses the word entrapment several times in his script .  Frankly, that is editorializing and that is something a fictional movie should never do.  Russell trivialized mental illness in Silver Linings Playbook and that bothered me, now he trivializes political corruption, and that is too much, because now he is dealing with reality and not just a fictional story.  Russell is not the only one who is guilty of this, Martin Scorsese does much the same in the Wolf of Wall Street.

The acting by the male leads is superb.  There are three aspects of the characterization of Irving that made it stand out.  The first is the comb-over, Irving’s comb over becomes a metaphor for the character. Irving goes to great lengths to hide that he’s bald, just like Irving goes to great lengths to hide the fact that he’s a con-man.  In the end both the fact that he’s bald and a con-man become glaringly obvious.  Second is Bale’s weight gain, call it method acting or whatever you want to call it, the weight gain was effective, it helped the viewer forget that this was Christian Bale, and put the focus back on the character.  Third, Bale’s Bronx accent was impeccable, it’s a very easy accent to get wrong, and he nailed it, further adding to the believability of the character.

Bradley Cooper continues his strong string of performances going back to Silver Linings Playbook.  Cooper plays Richie as a megalomaniac, who puts his hair up in curlers to maintain a certain look.  Richie’s hair is also a key to understanding that character.  He’s vain and self-important and has delusions that he can root out corruption on a large scale.  Jeremy Renner plays Carmine sympathetically, a little too sympathetically, the viewer actually believes that Carmine is working for the best interests of his town and his state.  The female leads don’t fare as well.   Amy Adams has trouble switching between an American and British accents, and Jennifer Lawrence is too young to play such a mature and worldly character.  Lawrence also has trouble with the New York accent.

The direction is nothing outstanding, there are no iconic scenes or quick edits, but the pacing is good, the two hours and 18 minutes goes by quickly.

America Hustle: Bale et al. do the hustle in the 1970’s.

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