Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 18 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Language, some Sexual Content and brief Violence
Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: Eric Singer & David O. Russell
Starring: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence & Louis C.K.
Sometimes, it’s impossible to avoid the hype for upcoming movies. I tend to ignore other movie reviews and try to pay no attention to sites like Rotten Tomatoes before actually seeing a film itself. Ads were everywhere for AMERICAN HUSTLE though. It seemed like there was a TV spot every other commercial and everybody online was making a huge deal that the movie currently holds a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes (which is always a good sign). In all honesty, it seemed like it was impossible not to get excited for this film. The sheer amount of talent involved and the concept that it’s a 70’s crime flick (something of which we lately have received so little of) got me beyond hyped up to see it.
So now that I have had a few days to process the movie, what is my reaction? I still love it. AMERICAN HUSTLE is a gripping, massively entertaining, and clever movie that doesn’t focus too much on the actual events that inspired it, but instead makes its primary focus to let the cast become their characters and to tell an engaging (half fictional) story.
Opening with a title card stating “Some Of This Actually Happened,” AMERICAN HUSTLE immediately sets the quirky tone that will be followed on through the entirety of the over-2-hour-long running time. The film follows a variety of colorful characters (all of which are played masterfully by an A-list cast). Irving Rosenfield and Sydney Prosser are two con-artists madly in love with each other. Their scams that rob desperate people of thousands of dollars and running counterfeit art dealing business on the side eventually warrant the attention of the FBI, mainly one hot-headed agent, Richie DiMasio. Richie forces Irving and Sydney to lead him to other con-artists in the area, but when an opportunity to nab bigger fish (corrupt politicians and some of the mafia) presents itself, Richie’s plan escalates into something that might wind up making him a hero or getting all of them killed.
AMERICAN HUSTLE feels like director/co-writer David O. Russell wanted to make a crime epic in the style of Scorsese’s gangster movies. Following different characters through interlocking events and having the film being narrated by (mainly) Christian Bale and Amy Adams. It even opens in the same style that GOODFELLAS and CASINO began with a scene playing out, the plot flashing back to show how things had progressed up to this point, and then continuing on far past the scene that we initially witnessed at the start of the film. This is not a detriment to the film in the slightest. In fact, it feels like it perfectly belongs in the same time period that both Scorsese’s mafia masterpieces were created too. I also found this to be kind of ironic given the release of Scorsese’s newest movie THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (more on this in my review of that film).
The plot is based around the real-life FBI operation known as ABSCAM (which took place in the late 70’s to the early 80’s) and the screenplay is compelling, even when we’re following the less likable characters. Keeping true to the time period, David O. Russell expertly winds up capturing the atmosphere of the 70’s from every single detail shown on the film. From the costume designs and the elaborate perm that Bradley Cooper sports to the excellent choices for the film’s soundtrack, it’s clear that Russell knew exactly what to bring into the film without it distracting from the intense (and at times, hilarious) story at hand. Hell, even the opening logos are dated to look retro.
It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that the cast of A-listers all bring their best to this tour-de-force of acting. Christian Bale (showing a big gut and a really creative comb-over) makes the audience root for Irving, despite him being a con-artist and thief. Amy Adams is excellent as Sydney and shows that she can give a huge range of emotions, as she manipulates certain people through the film. Bradley Cooper gives what I consider his best performance so far as Richie, who can go from zero to 60 in a matter of seconds in his temper. Louis C.K. has a memorable side performance and a certain veteran actor also shows up, which made the entire theater laugh out loud. Jeremy Renner garners some real sympathy for his corrupt political figure, who despite taking bribes seems to have a keen business sense and wants the best for his city.
I left one name out and I’m saving it for last, Jennifer Lawrence (last seen in THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE) is a great actress. It’s been seen in some of her other roles (for example, the award-winning one in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK), but as Rosalyn Rosenfield (Irving’s mentally unstable wife) she made me wish something horrible would happen to her character. This is one of the most infuriating characters since Sharon Stone in CASINO and it only goes to show just how talented Lawrence is that she made me hate her that much. If you need one reason (other than the excellent screenplay or amazing production design) to see AMERICAN HUSTLE, then see it simply for an incredible cast of actors cutting loose and clearly having fun as memorable characters (which are in part, based on real-life people).
To bring it right down to one singular point, AMERICAN HUSTLE is a movie about a bunch of different people conning each other in different ways. It’s smart, complex, and surprisingly has minimal violence for a movie involving the mafia (which was a nice change of pace). Entertaining just scratches the surface as to how much I loved this film! One of the best films of the year. No question.