There’s a scene in American Hustle that could end a number of ways. You’re not sure where it’s going to go. It feels vaguely unpleasant, and seems like it might escalate. You tense up. Then someone says something and you can’t quite believe it, because it was totally unexpected. Also, kind of funny. The scene starts to go the other way, and you find yourself chuckling, the anxiety of moments before almost forgotten. Except this doesn’t happen in just one scene. It happens over and over throughout the movie, which is precisely what makes American Hustle such an excellent film.
The events in American Hustle are simultaneously plausible and ridiculous. The movie itself is relatable, with moments veering from tender and sad to confused and dangerous to farcical and all the way back again. Don’t worry, it’s not as harrowing as it sounds. Well, kind of. It’ll be fun, don’t worry about it.
David O. Russell should be commended for managing to have such a star-studded cast - Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, two others I won’t spoil - and still find time to develop each of their characters. Trust me, it’s really hard. What was the last ensemble movie where you thought everyone got enough screen time?
Nearly every character in American Hustle does bad things, yet you can’t really say they’re bad people because you also see their positive attributes on display . That doesn’t make them less shitty for doing the shitty things they do, but it means they aren’t exclusively shitty and therefore easily dismissed. It’s almost like people, and life, can’t be accurately described in absolutes. These are flawed human beings trying to make the best of their situations and it is absolutely captivating.
Bale carries the movie (along with an astoundingly bad comb-over and substantial paunch) with his wounded performance as Irving Rosenfeld, a Long Island con man who can’t believe his luck when he falls for Sydney Prosser (Adams) and she also falls for him. They make a perfect pair, until their life of crime runs them afoul of Richie DiMaso (B-Coops), an FBI agent who wants to re-purpose their skills to help him catch corrupt government officials. I’m a believer that the best movie experiences are the most pristine ones, so I won’t tell you how Lawrence and Renner figure in the plot; it’s better to find out on your own. Suffice to say that you will find Lawrence hilarious and both of them lovable (Renner might be the first person to portray a politician I would describe as “adorable”). I’m going to talk up more of the acting because it’s well-deserved: Amy Adams is awesome. She manages to convey strength and ability while also being stressed out and vulnerable at the same time, which is impressive.
The opening title for American Hustle captures the tone of the movie perfectly: “Some of this actually happened.” That is a #realtalk version of “based on a true story,” which fits perfectly. The movie is honest and dramatic at the same time, and it’s level with you.
The movie also sounds great; Danny Elfman’s soundtrack doesn’t miss a beat and in several scenes, there’s an additional funky-but-it-works touch of having the characters lip-sync the words of whatever’s playing. It’s great. There’s also a memorable sequence featuring Duke Ellington’s Jeep’s Blues, which makes one with that more movies had memorable sequences featuring Duke Ellington songs.
You should see this movie if you like having fun. I mean that seriously and without hyperbole; fun things feel a little bit dangerous. American Hustle has dangerous moments interspersed with extremely funny ones. I promise you will not be bored. You should not see this movie if you only like movies with extremely clear moral absolutes in both character and message.
"American Hustle" opens December 20, 2013 and is rated R. Comedy, Drama, Thriller. Directed by David O Russell. Written by Eric Singer, David O. Russell. Starring Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner.