Filmmaker David O. Russell is certainly on a role. But it didn’t used to be that way. He started his career with the indie film SPANKING THE MONKEY, which I still need to see. He followed that up with the terrific FLIRTING WITH DISASTER. Then he made the war film THREE KINGS, which is a great movie. I missed I HEART HUCKABEE’S but it is known for Russell blowing up at lily Tomlin on the set. However, the flick still does have a cult following. After that, Russell had a tough time getting a film greenlit, but then Mark Wahlberg brought him on board to direct THE FIGHTER, which I loved. And then he struck gold when he came out with last year’s SILVER LINING’S PLAYBOOK. Now, with his latest film AMERICAN HUSTLE, expectations are through the roof.
The film takes place in the late 70’s. Christian Bale plays a con man named Irv, who makes a living by doing some small time jobs, but of course he has bigger aspirations. He meets a stunning woman named Sydney (Amy Adams) who, despite Irv’s crude appearance (he’s fat and bald), is mysteriously attracted to him as well as being seduced into his money-making schemes. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows though. Irv has a young trophy wife named Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) with a kid, who is a loose cannon. Definitely not to be trusted with secrets. Things come to a head when a federal agent named Richie, (Bradley Cooper) busts Irv and Sydney. But Richie has a plan of his own to make millions of dollars, so he brings them in on the take. To be honest, the con is a bit complicated, but it has something to do with ripping off the mob and a political boss (Jeremy Renner).
The plot is straight out of a Martin Scorsese film. Now, while it doesn’t have nearly half the energy of one of those movies, it still is entertaining in its own right. And that’s largely due to the performances from the leading actors. The plot is mildly engaging, and I liked how the script was riddled with some humor throughout, but the movie wouldn’t be what it is without its actors.
Bale reported gained around 40 pounds for his role. He also has a ridiculous comb over, which is made to good use in the film’s hilarious pre-title sequence. Bale, as usual, completely loses himself in the character he plays. Always 100% committed. I expect nothing less from him. But the rest of the cast really surprised me. Amy Adams is fantastic. She’s sexy, conniving, desperate, but ultimately a strong woman. Bradley Cooper gives what could be his best performance to date. His Richie is an insecure mess, who perms his hair and wears ridiculous shirts. Cooper is wonderfully manic and has a great breakdown scene which should seal him an Oscar Nomination. And then there’s Jennifer Lawrence. Can I just say right now that I am completely in love with this woman. Man! Not only is she one of the most beautiful creatures on the planet, but she is easily the best actress of her generation. completely capable of playing a teenager, and a mature woman (and both in the same year!). Her character here gives Lawrence the opportunity to play an out of control shrew, who is sexy just as much as she is dangerously unpredictable. I would say that she is a front-runner to win the Oscar for supporting actress. The rest of the cast is good as well. Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., and Robert De Niro all have some good moments.
I know that I’ve talked more about the performances than about the story. Well, I found the plot to be a typical standard con movie. I mean, it’s not bad at all. In fact, it’s quite solid. It’s just not a groundbreaking movie. I like how the film is structured and the detail of the 70’s art direction and costumes are pitch perfect. There’s also a great 70’s soundtrack throughout. I’m sure there will be comparisons to other films that were set in the 70’s, like BOOGIE NIGHTS. And that’s valid. But it’s definitely as not as good as that movie. And that has to do with the pace. I think the editing needed a bit more energy. More zip to it. I can only begin to imagine what Scorsese would have done with this. I’m sure it would have been chock full of energy though. As is, AMERICAN HUSTLE is surprisingly laid back, which isn’t a bad thing, but within the context of the structure and plot of the film, I think this could have been tightened up a bit.
That said, David O. Russell frames some nice shots and works with his actors very well. The script is fine. It may be a little too complex for its own good, but it certainly is ambitious. But like I said, the real reason to seek this out is to watch some fantastic performances. At the end of the day, most people will be talking about the actors, not how clever the con was. It’s not a masterpiece. It’s not the next big thing. But it is a decent film, full of great acting, a surprisingly amount of humor, and a cool 70’s vibe. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence.
– Running time: 2hrs 17min.