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Review: American Hustle – Silly seventies scam story

Posted by on December 18, 2013 – 7:45 am

American HustleDo you know what the twenty-first century is missing? Bad men’s hairstyles. Oh sure, in 2013 we have iPhones, Wi-Fi, body jewelry and Miley Cyrus, but thirty years from now, when they are making movies about this era, comical men’s hairstyles from this period will be nonexistent. How will moviegoers in 2050 be able to tell which decade the movie is taking place? (Come on millennials, get with it.)

Take American Hustle, the new crime drama that also makes hilarious fun of the toupeed comb-over and the Jheri curl disco look of the late 1970s. This was when men were men and their hair made a bold statement about the age in which they lived. The film probably has the most fun with cockamamie hair (or lack thereof) since 1996’s Kingpin.

But enough about the hairstyles, what about the movie? American Hustle is one of the most entertaining films of the year, with an “all-star” cast – that includes Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence – all delivering knockout performances. The acting is so good and this ensemble is so much fun to watch, you won’t want the movie to end.

The story is set in 1978 New Jersey and is very loosely based on the real-life “Abscam” F.B.I. sting operations of the late Seventies and early Eighties. The “Ab” part stands for “Sheik Abdullah,” an undercover F.B.I. agent who was trying to buy off politicians and other public officials in return for construction licensing and immigration favors that also had ties to the Mafia.

American HustleAn almost unrecognizable Christian Bale allegedly gained forty pounds to play Irving Rosenfeld, a successful entrepreneur who is also a con-man dealing in forged art and financing schemes. He brings his girlfriend, Sydney (Adams), into his sham-world and she proves to be very adept at luring new marks with her sexy dresses and fake English accent. Irving also has a demented young wife, Rosalyn (Lawrence), who mostly stays home with her son and drives her husband crazy (think Real Housewives of New Jersey.)

Things are going good for Irving and Sydney until they are busted by an ambitious undercover F.B.I. agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who uses the pair of small-time grifters to go after bigger fish, like Camden, New Jersey Mayor, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), who is trying to rebuild the Atlantic City casinos in order to create jobs for his community.

The plot of this film is fictional, which is odd given the non-fictional drama of the Abscam operation. Its premise is fine and interesting, but I think it could have easily stood without the Abscam connection. (Why muddy the waters of the real history?) Nevertheless, the story only serves to set up the incredible performances by the cast. Amy Adams has never been more alluring, Jennifer Lawrence proves again that she is a force to be reckoned with, far beyond the Hunger Games hogwash, and Bale, Cooper and Renner all play wonderfully off each other.

American HustleAmerican Hustle is directed and co-written by David O. Russell, who also worked with Cooper and Lawrence on last year’s very good Silver Linings Playbook, and he has scored a touchdown again with this one. The film also has nice small performances by Michael Pena, Louis C.K. and an uncredited appearance by Robert De Niro.

The music in this movie is also fantastic and covers the spectrum of late-seventies songs from disco (I Feel Love – Donna Summer) to folk rock (A Horse with No Name – America), but the standout is a rare Electric Light Orchestra tune from 2001, Long Black Road. The film’s score is composed by Danny Elfman.

With a tone reminiscent of 1997’s Boogie Nights, this film does a great job of capturing the look and feel of the late Seventies. American Hustle is a lot of fun and its topnotch performances are sure to make it a contender in the upcoming film awards season. Grade: 9/10

Photos © 2013 Annapurna Productions LLC