Wednesday, February 5, 2014

American Hustle -- mini review

Director: David O. Russell, 2013 (R)

The opening title card proclaims, "some of this stuff actually happened". We know there is some historical basis, but Russell points out here that he is going to take artistic license as he sees fit. The film is focused on the FBI sting operation that landed several politicians in jail, but the point is the hustle. Everyone is hustling someone.

Russell has brought back actors he has used in his previous Oscar winners. From Silver Linings Playbook, he reunites Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. From The Fighter, he uses Christian Bale and Amy Adams. And all four of these actors earn Oscar nominations for American Hustle, which has garnered 10 nominations in total, including Best Picture and Best Director. Adams is the best of the batch here, although Cooper does a fine job as a man who constantly jumps to conclusions, usually the wrong ones.

Bale, sporting a wig and elaborate comb-over, plays Irving Rosenfeld, a small-time con-man hustling debtors through false loans. Lawrence is his stay-at-home wife Rosalyn. Adams becomes Irving's con partner, using a strange British accent, and his lover. When they are caught in the con act by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper), he coerces them into setting up a sting to catch 4 more people. But he is hustling, too, as he wants the big fish: first Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), and then congressmen and senators.

American Hustle is a fun sting movie, but that is all. Despite its beautiful production aesthetic that makes the 80s era come alive on screen, it lacks heart. All the characters except Carmine are on the hustle. They are all playing someone to survive. None are clean. None are worth caring about, except the mayor who genuinely seems to care about his constituents, even if he makes some mistakes and bad choices. Ultimately, it is this lack of appealing protagonist that leaves it wanting. We will enjoy the movie and then forget about it as we seek to survive in our own lives, an american survival that hopefully does not include hustling.

Copyright ©2014, Martin Baggs

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