Saturday, March 1, 2014

American Hustle review

In American Hustle, we first meet Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) as he is putting on a hideous toupee to cover up his balding head. Rosenfeld is a con artist who's an informant for the FBI about to lure a politician into accepting a bribe. It's a delightful metaphor for the duplicitous nature of Rosenfeld. But he's not the only character who is not what they seem to be.

Written by director David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer, American Hustle is a 1978 story about two con artists, Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). Rosenfeld's con is to lure people with the promise of a loan of $50, 000.00. The catch is the victims must pony up $5000.00 as a fee. Of course, they don't get the loan. Initially, Prosser is not part of Rosenfeld's scam. When they met, she's not what she conveys herself to be. To Rosenfeld, she's a sophisticated, sexy and urban woman. But in reality she's not from the urban New York city - New Jersey area man where the story takes place. She's a midwestern girl. When Rosenfeld invites her into the scam, she refuses but she is excited by his attention. She immediately conjures a way to improve the con by being an English aristocrat with banking connections named Lady Greensly.

Their scam is working well until they are busted by FBI agent Richie DiMaso. (Bradley Cooper) He "convinces" the two to work for him. DiMaso's ambition is to bring down politicians with bribes. Faced with prison, the two decide to work for the FBI. They devise a plan to use a fake Arab sheikh to invest money in Atlantic City casinos by paying off politicians. Their first target is Camden, New Jersey mayor's Mayor Carmine Polito. (Jeremy Renner) He maybe corrupt but his cause is to help the people of his city with the economic windfall from the casinos.

Russell and Singer's screenplay is loosely based on real ABSCAM operation of the late seventies and early eighties. The dialogue is deep with rich characterizations. The people speak the way you would expect them to if they were from the New York-New Jersey area. And it's hard to hate the con artists Rosenfeld and Prosser. They may be crooks but they do love each other even though Rosenfeld is married to Rossalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). Rosenfeld has an adopted son with Rossalyn that he will do anything for. There are humorous moments but this film is not just a comedy. It's a story about the struggle to survive. One that will resonate with everyone in the audience. Russell's direction also deserves congratulations. He wisely stays out of the way of the actors. There's very little in camera gymnastics. Russell knows he's got a great story with fantastic dialogue. No need for wild camera movements.

But it's the acting that makes American Hustle a great film. Christian Bale is unrecognizable from his Bruce Wayne in the Batman movies. No doubt, he's a crook. But he displays a moral center. He's fragile and can be loving. Bradley Cooper's DiMaso is perhaps the least attractive of the cast. He's almost all ambition but is clearly weakened by Prosser's sexual lures. As Rosenfeld's wife, Rosalyn Rosenfeld, Jennifer Lawrence does have the New Jersey woman down. Love that accent. But she's actually not the strongest in the cast. She's a little young to be playing a housewife. However, it's Amy Adams portrayal of Sydney that is the best in the movie. I've always said the best actors convey emotions and motivations without saying a word. And that's what you get with Adams. On her face, you can see hurt, deceit, and love without Adams uttering a word. It's the rich dialogue that is the icing on the cake. Adams' Sydney wields her sexuality the way Bruce Lee uses nunchuks. Adams does one of the best pieces of acting that one will not see in a long time. It's a tour de force performance.

American Hustle is one of the best films of 2013. It's a movie about the lies people tell to get what they want and to survive. And the cast in this film are just simply wonderful. The grade is A Plus.

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