Thursday, December 19, 2013

American Hustle

Fasten your seat belts – 
it’s a wild, bumpy ride

The Cast of American Hustle
     American Hustle has been highly praised for its electrifying spin through the desperate, polyester, disco days of the late ‘70s and its simultaneous mythic/historic explication of the ABSCAM sting operation, which probably did less good than it
seemed initially and cost the American taxpayer far more than it was worth.  Except for the twee and twitchy I Heart Huckabees, we’ve pretty much loved David O. Russell’s movies.  He co-wrote the script with Eric Warren Singer and it’s probably the strongest element.  However, I’m not certain there would have been as many f-bombs in the ‘70s; I remember a lot more ‘hell’ and ‘goddamn’ even in the movies.

     The long tracking shots with slow motion scenes pay homage to Scorsese’s Goodfellas as do the initial and final sequences.  The multiple characters, story lines, and recurring use of actors from Russell’s other works recall Altman.  However, the manic energy and careening tone shifts from outrageous comedy to dangerous drama are very much his own.  I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot because it’s trickier than it first appears, even with the flashbacks at the beginning.  It’s not giving away too much to keep in mind that many of the characters are con artists and the title nails just what it’s about.  Yes, the ‘70s are back in all their glory in the production design, though Neil wasn’t certain Amy Adams’ hair and make-up were exactly right at all times.  The soundtrack is a veritable mash-up of ‘50s through ‘70s hits and it’s pretty great.

Dexter with a
Stocky Christian Bale
     Much has been made of the cast and it’s very enthusiastic.  Christian Bale captures the protagonist and central grifter with exceptional technical skill, though most viewers will probably be more impressed with his weight gain and hilarious bit with this comb-over.  At times, I thought he was channeling Robert De Niro and then De Niro showed up in a cameo, playing the most intelligent character in the movie.  Bradley Cooper perfectly pitches playing whacked out snits, though it’s like what his character from Russell’s The Silver Linings Playbook would have been like before he was released from the mental ward.  Jeremy Renner captures a decent man whose trust is misplaced.  Elizabeth Röhm matches very well with him as his wife.  

Jennifer Lawrence Flirting with the Casino Guys
     Jennifer Lawrence leaps off the screen as Bale’s wife.  Neil thought her accent wavered a bit, but it was impossible to take our eyes off her whenever she was on screen.  She has the vitality and comic spark of Sophia Loren; she’s crazy sexy funny and looks great even in the towering hair and garishly cut clothes.  Our biggest problem was with Amy Adams.  I thought her English accent was a little off for an upper class toff; Neil can’t quite believe her in the tougher, meaner parts she’s been cast in of late such as The Master, though she was pretty good in The Fighter.  He could see her and Cooper in a romantic comedy since they’re excellent dancing together and almost going further in a disco scene.  Though she’s actually a generation older than Lawrence, she looks younger than her.
Amy Adams
Adams' innocence and pluck seem more genuine in  Junebug or The Enchanted.  She’s a con artist in this, but she seems ingenuous, rather than deceitful.  She looks tough and appropriate in a scene where her hair is crimped, but otherwise she could pass as a young teenager and it doesn’t play correctly in visual terms.  We could have seen Emily Blunt or Emily Mortimer in this role or in a real mind game casting Lawrence in both roles.

    It probably says more about contemporary American political and financial issues than any other movie this year even though it’s set thirty-five years ago.  People will try almost anything to survive in an economic downturn and usually the small potatoes swindlers and off-center do-gooders get screwed, rather than the really powerful and wealthy crooks.  

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