American Hustle Review: Upon first hearing Christian Bale talk and Led Zeppelin play in the trailer I knew this would be a great movie. It was easily one of the most anticipated movies of the year with a perfect combination of talent behind and in front of the screen and a rich story. Any movie that has Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence would be a must see by themselves. But having all of them in one movie makes this an instant must see. It just begs to be seen as you have something for everyone. The chemistry between all of them is top notch while being kept together by a crackling script and near flawless direction. It has the perfect formula that oozes of Oscar buzz, repeat viewings, and quotable lines. You couldn’t have any more fun as everything attacks the senses. Like a well-oiled machine, everything has its place and nothing goes unused.
This may be the best ensemble cast I’ve seen all year. Everyone brings something different to the table like it’s the final piece to the puzzle. If you would take away one component it would easily fall apart before it got out of the gates. The group here is so smart and self-aware you swear you could be their friends. As duplicitous as they all are, they’re a whole lot of fun to see, hear and generally be around. Bale is better than ever as master con artist Irving Rosenfield who gets trapped to work for the FBI and take down the mafia and government corruption. He seems to be even more into this role than any other he’s done which is a shock since he envelops anything and everything he steps into so well. He exudes such great charisma, fortitude, emotional stability, and the smarts needed to always be one step ahead. It looks like he hasn’t had this much wild fun since American Psycho. He’s seemingly the only guy trying to keep his hectic life on an even keel but gets more complicated with unforeseen circumstances. You really start to feel for him, hoping he gets out clean. He is evened out with fellow con artist and lover Sydney Prosser, also forced to help the FBI with Rosenfield, played by the amazing Amy Adams. In her most diverse role ever she is cunning, gorgeous, and devious. Adams usually has played dowdier roles with much critical acclaim like Doubt, Junebug and Enchanted. But recently she played rough, as kicking barmaid in The Fighter. She betters that performance with more confidence and strength with a healthy dose of sexuality, further helped to bring out her animalistic qualities.. She is equal parts alluring and dangerous, one person you wouldn’t want to cross.
In the middle is Bradley Cooper as unpredictable FBI agent Richie Dimaso in charge of Rosenfield and Prosser. He brought a more wild but controlled energy to the conning duo. With his great affable charm, he strives to get the big fish but may have gotten more than he bargained for. Early in his career he has often played in comedic roles, not stretching his range too much. But he has quickly shown much emotional depth in The Place Beyond The Pines earlier this year. He is at his best when his emotional outbursts get the best of him and lets his wild inhibitions come out in the open. He wants to be the big guy who gets the major arrest but often seems out of his emotional depth. Jeremy Renner as New Jersey mayor Carmine Polito who gets stuck in the middle between the mafia, the FBI and con artists delivers the most understated performance of the bunch. He wasn’t an outright crook or some corrupt mastermind but a guy who wanted to help his state of New Jersey. I didn’t know what to expect since I didn’t know that much from the true story which it was based but it was rather sweet seeing him try and do good. But he gets the bad luck of friending a con man who’s involved with the FBI. Like many people who get involved with crime and say they didn’t mean to hurt anybody, he really seemed genuine and meant it. His intentions were pure at heart with his way of doing it guaranteeing economic growth but bucking all legalities. It makes it all the more heartbreaking to see him get mixed up in it and eventually fall. It’s hard to not feel for him as he is loved by many including his family who has everyone’s best interests at heart. On the flip side of the coin is Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Irving’s unpredictable wife who is a wild card if there ever was one. She is so out there that you wonder what she will do next then you squirm at the consequences of her actions. She is her own element marching to the beat of her own drum and everyone else be damned if you get in her way. Her wild rambunctious ways remind me of Sharon Stones Ginger from Casino. Someone you can’t keep your eyes off of, wanting to hang out with her while at the same time yelling what are you doing. It’s that quick transition of character that makes it so engaging and captivating. Lawrence was on fire throughout and the perfect combustible element to get this chemical reaction to blow up in exciting fashion.
The story had so many elements, utilizing every characters motivation to separately tell a story. Everyone’s motivations differed but all fell into one group. Being the art of the con, everyone one way or another is conning themselves or each other to get by. Not once did someone not lie to another character with ulterior motives lying in the midst. They all have their reasons why they’re doing it and getting what they want. That’s what makes it so fun with all these interweaving characters lying to one another, doing whatever it takes to get ahead. What I really loved is how everyone one way or another heavily relied on another to get by, putting all their eggs in that basket for better or worse. They all needed each other for sex, friendship, and to further their careers. It’s so toxic and unreliable that you can’t wait for it to go boom. Hubris, pride and ego play a big part determining how and why the pieces fall where they lay.
But what drives it more than anything is the wish for the American dream, to be something, somebody, and anybody, no matter the cost. The people here hate lying to themselves and wish for something greater to break them from the doldrums of life. But as they will learn, obtaining that long wished for dream may never come without some needed finagling to finally accomplish it. With the threat of damaged friendships, relationships, and careers it’s often sweet, sad and unexpected to see everyone have their own breakdown. Lawrence for example shatters your heart in a teary eyed confession to Bale that shows how damaged she really is, even if her stylish and polished veneer doesn’t show it one bit. Everyone has that moment of clarity where everything seems to break down. Nearly every pairing of actors has time to shine with powerful performances, whether it is Bale/Adams, Adams/Cooper, Bale/Lawrence, Lawrence/Adams or Bale/Renner. It jumps at such a quick and hectic pace, you often have to remind yourself whose getting hustled again.
People may have jumped on the David O. Russell train recently but he has proved his dramatic/comedic ensemble meddle with Three Kings, Flirting With Disaster and to a lesser extent I Heart Huckabees. He quickly mastered the fine art of ensemble directing, always garnering a diverse and stellar cast in each film. He also has a great knack for dark comedy; unlike a lot of directors he knows how to get a laugh out of anything. This is his most daring effort with Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter not being too surprising and being a little too formulaic in some parts. He takes a whole lot more chances here and they all pay off. It gets a little muddled in American Hustle as you’re trying to keep up with the con but it shouldn’t be that big of an issue. It is about the Abscam scandal of the 70s but at its heart it’s about the characters conning their and each other’s emotions. There is a crisp feel as it looks brand new, as if you haven’t seen anything like this in ages. You feel completely transported to that decadent ear and O. Russell creates that world in his own distinct style. Combining his layered direction with the glorious look of the 70s, he makes everything so grandiose, epic and something you would see out of a music video. His use of solo was downright gorgeous, enhancing the emotions of the character. Everything looked beautiful and was easy to get swept away in the glitz and glamor but he takes it away just as quickly, pushing you down a never ending staircase of despair. With characters as complex as this you’re not really sure who to root for since everyone was so shitty to one another. Only a master auteur can handle a collage of dubious characters, broken friendships, back stabs and deception. It’s some of the most stylish fun you’ll ever have at the movies.
The script snaps, crackles and pops with razor sharp dialogue. The fangs and tongues are at full force as everyone gets their verbal licks in. O. Russell was the screenwriter and it shows with its tit for tat style, very dialogue heavy and intelligent. Everything just sounds so cool and free as it rolls off the tongue. The characters give that feeling of not giving a shit and the world exemplifies that fact. There is a nice airy, breezy feel to it, very smooth with an intoxicating aroma. It comes in, does its thing, leaves and you’re left amazed at what just transpired. It doesn’t drag or lull in spots with everyone making important contributions when talking. Everyone utilizes the script perfectly but I think the pairing of Bale/Lawrence had the best interactions in a sea full of amazing performances. They were amazing by themselves but a whole lot better when they were together. Their individual styles brought the best out of everything and anything and were a magnet for beautiful dialogue. Rosalyn is also so very tragically sad. Hearing her breakdown was so depressing. She got so much pathos that whatever she did before was forgiven.
Everything here looked so gorgeous. The wardrobe was amazing, sexy, stylish and very reminiscent of the time. The 70s may get a lot of flack for its style, but it all looked great. I would definitely wear many of the suits worn here. Amy Adams is a beautiful woman clearly, but she was so stunning with every shimmering, cleavage bared dress. I’ll never tire of seeing Bradley Cooper in curlers and a great perm. Jeremy Renner looked great with his poofed up pompadour. But it is Christian Bale who out dressed them all, with the most ridiculous looking outfits and hair. I thought Javier Bardem looked crazy in The Counselor. His epic comb over may be the greatest in the history of movies. Never have I seen a more elaborate attempt to make one have more hair than intended. Makes you appreciate Donald Trumps. That added with his bulging gut, beard, and suits and you have the perfect 70s style combo. It just personified 70s cheese to perfection.
The real life clothes, hair and styles here rival the fantasy styles in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The soundtrack is one of the best I’ve ever heard. Every song works with the mood of the scene and individual characters weather it takes over or in the background. One of my favorite musical moments is the opening scene with Bale, Adams and Cooper walking in solo with authority looking badass a la Reservoir Dogs. O. Russell movies always have one of the best cinematic soundtracks. It should go without mention that Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino are the masters of that medium. He uses a wide eclectic variety from every genre in the late 70s to help you down that disco era. I always get a kick when a great cinematic moment is exemplified with the usage of a great song. There was simply too many to count as I marveled at the coupling of song and scene together. It just makes a good scene great. I also loved Cooper and Adams dressed to the nines walking solo through fog to a club.
Going in I knew it would be impossible to not love American Hustle, so when I left I loved it so much more than I ever anticipated. It would be hard to miss and damn near criminal to miss with an all-star stellar cast, brilliant direction, feverish script and an amazing true to life story. There’s possibly too much to love with so much going on. Good thing O. Russell movies are instantly watchable after the first viewing. It is a visual feast for the eyes with a quintet of varying personalities and styles, playing with each other’s emotions and yours. The director and the stars have never looked better as they meshed better together than they would have with anyone else. It’s hard to say who had more fun, the actors or the viewers. It’s been ages since crime looked this enchanting. You just want to pull a con yourself. The climax may be the most satisfying ending I’ve seen in a long time. It just comes out of nowhere to slug you in the face. I’ve been waiting a long time to be had like that, but this is one time I’m glad to be a mark. Five comb overs out of five.