American Hustle (2013) Film Review, a movie directed by David O. Russell, and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Michael Peña, Jack Huston, Louis C.K., Alessandro Nivola, Elisabeth Röhm, Colleen Camp, Dawn Olivieri, Anthony Zerbe, and Thomas Matthews.
American Hustle, director David O. Russell’s third film in four years, is the culmination of a self-proclaimed (and loose) “trilogy” about second chances and starting over. With The Fighter in 2010, Russell explored second chances at career and family. With Silver Linings Playbook in 2012, he explored second chances at love – and family. With American Hustle in 2013, he explores second chances at life – and chosen family – in a film that garnered ten Oscar nominations (but, in a dubious distinction, zero wins), including Best Picture and four acting nominations (one in each category), a rare honor rendered unprecedented due to this being Russell’s second and consecutive film to do so. (The first film being Silver Linings Playbook, which was also nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, as was The Fighter).
Reuniting himself with stars he led to Oscar wins in the first two films of the trilogy (Christian Bale in The Fighter and Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook), Russell constructs a tale based on a true story from the 1970’s about white-collar crime, the FBI, the mafia, and corrupt politicians. Taking place in New Jersey, the film follows Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) as they assist FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) in entrapping four individuals for white-collar crime after he catches them in a loan scam. The narrow confines of the plan, however, become nearly unmanageable as its scope widens exponentially due to Richie’s dissatisfaction with anything else but a grandiose victory that comes to include capturing corrupt U.S. Senators and the mafia. All the while, Irving’s careless and naïve wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), lies in the wings, unwittingly threatening to expose the entire operation.
In a year of impressive and serious dramas based on true stories, American Hustle stands out for being the most fun, entertaining film of the year. The four main performers are wisely given wide latitude in creating characters with surprising depth and satisfying details. The resulting lack of restraint is refreshing, and some of the film’s best scenes – such as a marital spat between Bale and Lawrence – were reportedly improvised. The female performances have garnered all of the attention here (and Adams impresses, yet again, with a performance that exhibits unexpected range), but the male performances (Bale and Cooper) should not be discounted, though they have been severely underrated in a crowded year for actors. The 23-year-old Lawrence, however, manages to steal the film from everybody – and with less screen time than any of them – in a massive coup.
Russell’s style renders the film not only accessible, but engaging, and the film’s plot isn’t nearly as complicated as one would think as a result. It exudes a confidence that mirrors that of the characters – unashamedly bold, stylistic, uncompromising, and unapologetic. From Adams’ chronically low-cut dresses and scenes without makeup to Bale’s forty-pound weight gain; from Cooper’s hair curlers to Lawrence’s head-banging during a truly masterful soundtrack of rock hits; this film is loud, fun, and here to stay.
While some have said that this film is easy to write off or that it’s overrated, it is anything but. The film is memorable for reminding the audience that sometimes the best results happen when daring creativity and uninhibited risk-taking combine, promoting a “characters first” culture of safe experimentation for risk-averse actors. In an industry where everything seems cliché, pre-planned, orchestrated, and insincere, this film is entirely refreshing; not every unforgettable film needs to be heartbreaking or depressing.
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