December 25, 2013

American Hustle (12/25/2013)

Lettergrade: A

In American Hustle, Christian Bale and Amy Adams are a pair of small time New Jersey crooks that get caught by an over-zealous FBI agent played by Bradley Cooper. Sensing that this could be the case that makes his career, Cooper pushes their scams to even crazier heights in an attempt to further entrap local politicians, state congressmen... maybe even US Senators and members of the mob.

A clinical description of the plot, however, doesn't quite do this very strange and insanely entertaining movie justice. It was directed by David O. Russell, who made Silver Linings Playbook last year, and The Fighter in 2010. At times, Hustle feels a little like his take on Goodfellas crossed with an Elmore Leonard crime plot, but populated with the same kind of cracked, emotionally unstable characters who made Silver Linings so entertaining last year. Whatever the influences, I found this picture to be a hell of a lot of fun, and one of the most exciting experiences I've had watching a movie this year.

"Everybody's always conning everybody," Bale says early in the picture via some Martin Scorsese style voice over. And he knows what he's talking about: His character is married to Jennifer Lawrence (as a detestable housewife who hates her husband, but won't grant him a divorce), however he's actually in love with Adams, his loan-scam partner who spends much of the movie intermittently putting on a frilly British accent for unclear reasons. As the picture goes on, Bale deceptively earns the trust of Jeremy Renner, playing the new mayor of Camden who hopes to use the dark money Bale promises him to fund a string of new casinos in the state, thus upping revenue and greatly increasing quality of life there. Other cast members include Louis C.K. as Cooper's boss, hilariously frustrated by his own inability to control his agent, and an uncredited Robert De Niro, returning to one of his old standards by playing a vicious mobster for the first time in a while.

The movie is loosely based on something that really happened in the 70s (the "Abscam" scandal), but it is also pretty clear upfront that we're looking at a fictionalized version of the story. I have no idea how much is based on actual events, but I loved that the film kept on getting crazier and crazier as Cooper greedily eyes bigger arrests and events spiral out of control.

One of the pleasures of the movie is how utterly awful it makes all these beautiful people look…. I can't think of another picture where everyone's hair is so thoroughly hideous. The sets, the costumes, the ostentatious camera work and editing… it all makes for an incredibly entertaining caper that never gets boring, even for a minute.

In the end, I don't think American Hustle is about anything all that meaningful or profound - at least not the way Russell's previous two pictures were - but it's a good thinking-man's comedy crime story… when's the last time you've seen something like that?

1 comment:

  1. agreed! A! Possibly the most entertaining film I saw this year