Movie Review: American Hustle

Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale in “American Hustle”

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

Think Casino meets The Grifters, shot through with a hefty dose of the off-kilter … and that’s American Hustle. Between the surprisingly wacky performances and a twisty screenplay bristling with wit, soaked to a fare-thee-well in the pop culture explosion of the late 70s, filmmaker David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter, Three Kings, Flirting with Disaster) delivers a movie that’s not to be missed.

Rather than a dry retelling of the facts, Russell and co-writer Eric Warren Singer used the FBI’s 1978-1980 Abscam operation as a jumping-off point, fashioning their plot around five primary characters who all believe that they’re experts in the art of deception. Except that there’s a slight wrinkle — it turns out that the deceivers all suffer from their own particular self-deceptions. Consequently, sometimes they do the hustle … other times, the hustle does them.

Flashing back to the bona fide scandal:  Abscam started off as a modest Long Island sting operation. The program was run by the Feds, who struck a deal with prison-bound, petty con man Mel Weinberg. The bargain was that if Weinberg helped the FBI construct the sting, he would avoid a 20-year prison sentence. Together, they developed a fake business called Abdul Enterprises (hence, “Ab-Scam”), run by a supposed Arab sheik who boasted of untold wealth. Politicos soon came a-courting, hoping to separate the sheik from some of his dollars, convincing him to invest in such projects as the brand new casino business in New Jersey, real estate in Miami, etc. Collecting hours of covert recordings on video tape, Abscam ultimately entrapped 19 political figures including a U.S. senator, six members of the House of Representatives and local state officials, including the mayor of Camden, New Jersey.

The Weinberg con man gets a fictional re-do as Christian Bale’s Irving Rosenfeld, replete with an atrocious comb-over, chunky gold jewelry hanging on his hairy arms and even hairier chest, and a protuberant belly. (A stickler for authenticity, Bale gained 43 pounds for the role.) As Irving’s wife Rosalyn – a shrill, sexually-manipulative yet lovelorn Long Island housewife – Jennifer Lawrence is utterly delicious. The actual Camden mayor (Angelo Errichetti) has been reimagined as Jeremy Renner’s Carmine Polito, a well-meaning, Rat Pack-esque civil servant sporting a pompadour and sideburns that could make Elvis weep. (It seems as if the film’s outrageous panoply of hair pieces is a character unto itself.)

Two fictional characters join the fray: the eager FBI agent, Bradley Cooper’s Richie DiMaso and the stripper turned expert con artist, Amy Adams’ Sydney Prosser.

(l to r) Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence

There isn’t a weak performance among this wild cast of zanies. (Reminiscent of a repertory company, four out of five of the principals represent Russell alumni). First, there’s the surprise of Jennifer Lawrence, breaking all prior expectations — à la Mia Farrow’s turn as the Brooklyn mafia widow in Woody Allen’s marvelous Broadway Danny Rose. Cooper is perfect as the overly-zealous DiMaso, his tiny pink hair curlers energetically dancing on his head as he attempts to flirt with Sydney over the phone in his mother’s greasy kitchen, his fiancé looking on in angry confusion. And Renner adds a generous amount of flavor as the mayor who juggles personal interests with the good of his city.

That said, the film’s spotlight falls on the two contentious lovebirds, namely Bale’s Irving and Adams’ Sydney. Falling for each other amid the garments swirling around them on the clothes conveyor at his dry cleaners, we can’t but help root for these swindlers. Bale manages to convey a sweet vulnerability, a sideways moral sensibility and a romantic nature that works in conjunction with his day jobs as a steely-eyed loan shark and art forger. However, it is Adams who has never been better. In earlier films, her characters have been effective but primarily one-note: the naïve nun in Doubt, the bubbly princess in Enchanted, the stern bulldog of a wife in The Master. Yet here she runs the gamut: cool yet emotional, gullible, seductive, extraordinarily smart … it is a performance that simply boggles.

As for Russell, American Hustle is his best movie to date. Continuing to focus his films on relationship over story, the movie sparkles, seduces and tickles — all the while slyly nodding to the congressional and lobbyist-driven corruption that continues to resonate loudly today.

Brilliant in creating magic out of mere celluloid and paper, perhaps it’s Mr. Russell himself who’s the ultimate con artist. A con that we’ll happily surrender to, time and again …

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Rating on a scale of 5 pros and con men: 5

Release date: December 20, 2013
Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
Cast: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 126 minutes

Trailer:

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 450+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

Comments

  1. CIndy Charkow says:

    GREAT to see Kim reviewing again. I look so forward to her comments and it’s her way of reviewing that’s so exciting, honest and truly the best reviewer out there!! I read many in my business! Keep going and can’t wait for the next film you see!

  2. Jeff Blackmer says:

    A great review by Kimberly Gadette. As always, her comments are witty, crisp and fun to read. Well done and good to see you back!

  3. Jeanne Way says:

    Great to see you back!

  4. Jeanne Way says:

    Great to see that you are back!

  5. Debbie Zipp says:

    I absolutely love Kimberly’s style of writing! I have been missing her reviews. She doesn’t mince words. She tells it like it is without a mean streak. I enjoy and TRUST her insight, objectivity and her incredible wit. Whether the review is positive or negative she gives you more than just her opinion, she gives you a deeply intelligent and thorough analysis of a film and how it delivers on every level while making it a fun and entertaining ride. I will follow her reviews loyally.

  6. Kevin says:

    Welcome back Ms. Gadette! You tell it like it is every time– conveying a sense of the overall picture and performances, and doing so with your distinctive wit. One of the best online critics writing today. Do I hear Pauline Kael gnashing her teeth? Brava!

  7. Yes, Kim is back! I can start saving money by not wasting time viewing second rate features. We missed you girl! Look forward the next reviews.

  8. Jill Christensen says:

    We missed you! So great to get more of your insight into the good, the bad and the boring. Keep on keepin’ on, girl. We look forward to more of your great stuff!

  9. Susan Lehman says:

    Nice to see this reviewer viewing again. Love her appreciation of movies. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and her copy is as fun to see, sometimes more, that the films.

  10. ann says:

    It’s great to see a review from Kimberly Gadette. I hope to see more. She has a way of making you really want-or really NOT want to see a movie!

  11. DJ RAznick says:

    How fabulous to see you back! Always love reading your intelligent reviews. Yay.
    Now I know I will make a point of seeing this film. If you say it is a film “not to be missed’ — I will follow that advice.
    Welcome back.

  12. John Booth says:

    Great review. Kimberley’s review tells me exactly what I need to know to go and see the movie or give it a miss.
    Excellent

  13. So nice to be reading your reviews again, Kimberly! I love hearing your lively opinions and you never fail to make me laugh. It takes a while for these movies to reach Spain, but at least we know what to look out for and what to avoid.

    Hope you carry on sitting in the dark for a long time. Keep up the good work!

    :)

  14. Love her! Simply the best online reviewer I have read. Love her opinions and her writing style.

  15. Barbara Mayo-Neville says:

    So great to find you again. As always, you make me want to watch a film. (Well, actually you can also make me NOT want to watch a film too!) Great review and can’t wait to watch the movie. I just hope it is as entertaining as reading what you write about it!

  16. Kimberly is simply the best online reviewer I have read. I look forward to her opinions, and love her writing style.

  17. Cathy says:

    Once again, a fantastic review that’s directed me to a movie I wouldn’t have otherwise known about. And for all the right reasons. Kimberly, your breakdowns of plot, character, and perspective are my movie compass. Your analyses of why movies work or don’t work are usually my first port of call when I’m choosing my entertainment. I look forward to more of them.

  18. Pete Morin says:

    Wonderful review. I’m so glad to find your new site. I hope to follow you here for some time!

  19. JudyTobolski says:

    I am SO happy to find movies reviews from Kimberly Gadette again! She is an awesome reviewer and her comments are as entertaining as the movies! More- we want to hear from her regularily

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