Saturday, December 14, 2013


David O. Russell has been making movies for decades, but it appears he only recently fell into his groove as a filmmaker. With "American Hustle," his third movie in just four years, it's as if he's realized this high and wanted to take absolute advantage of it, churning out three acclaimed awards contendors. He has called "The Fighter," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "American Hustle" a spiritual trilogy, and in a sense, it is. All three films carry a manic, frenzied energy with oddball characters who bicker, banter and find unexpected depths. This time, Russell gathered Christian Bale and Amy Adams from one movie, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from his other movie, threw in Jeremy Renner for good measure, decided to play dress-up with them full of bodaciously bad hair and flashy lapels, and with it, he's concocted a glorious, delicious mess.

"Some of this actually happens" prefaces the story of a 1978 FBI sting operation that resulted in the conviction of six congressmen and a U.S. senator. At the story's center is Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), professional scam artist with his feisty mistress and partner in crime, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). She's so wrapped up in the world of conning that she's developed her own Brit alter ego. Yanking Irving's chain back at home with his adopted kid is his unpredictable sexpot wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who's ready to screw him over at a moment's notice.

Bring in mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), the guinea pig of the operation, and Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), the FBI operative who controls the setup but has to constantly check his back to make sure he's not getting conned by the con artists he's working with. It's a deliriously mad screenplay co-written by Russell and Eric Warren Singer that twists, turns and double-crosses but  more often than not hardly holds it together. And directed with Russell's eye, swooping cameras and zippy editing, the thing moves fast and talks fast, like it's hopped up on the drug-laden 70s era in which its set.

What saves it is undoubtedly the electrifying top-tier cast. The film's first image is Bale, who packed on 40 pounds for the role, orchestrating his character's elaborate facade of a combover that is the worst the world has seen. He's shlubby, disgusting and plays the part right on the edge, similar to the wild brother in "The Fighter." Adams, sporting unheard of amounts of sideboob in skimpy dresses, gives her best performance since "Junebug," playing a woman so in conflict with herself more than anybody around her, it's sad and absurd. And Cooper rocks those tight curls in his hair as the one who thinks he's the smartest guy in the room, especially when sparring with a deadpan boss played by Louis C.K.

The weakest link? It pains me to say, but it's Jennifer Lawrence even with her scenery-chewing scenes, which are an absolute kick, most notably her roaring rendition of "Live and Let Die." In the smallish role, her magnetism remains, but the young actress at 23 just doesn't fit the part, and it shows. It's too bad she's the one among these dynamite performances who will most likely go on to Academy acclaim. "Silver Linings" was her shining moment; not this.

1 comment:

  1. It is a superbly written movie ... featuring terrific characters who are played by one of the most talented casts of the year.