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 American Hustle

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: American Hustle   Fri Jan 17, 2014 1:42 am

David O. Russell came into cinema by way of short films, with makingáBingo Inferno: A Parody on American Obsessions (1987) and Hairway to the Stars (1989). His feature debut came with Spanking The Monkey (1994), which was controversial, but put Russell on the map. His second film Flirting with Disaster (1996), a comedy which touched upon many social taboos. Russell broke into the mainstream with Three Kings (1999), a black war comedy which was controversial and again provocative. It made headlines for it's behind the scenes conflicts as well as what went on screen too. Russell apparently had a temper, which was to be his undoing. When he did his existential comedyáI ♥ Huckabees (2004), he had arguments on set, some of which were filmed and put on YouTube. This hurt Russell's career, to the point where in 2008, his black comedy Nailed was abandoned due to financial problems. Russell needed a lifeline, and he got it from Mark Wahlberg, who having worked with Russell on Three Kings andáI ♥ Huckabees, gave him The Fighter (2010), the true story ofáboxer Mickey Ward and his half brotheráDickie Eklund. It would win Oscars. 2 years later, Russell adapted Silver Linings Playbook (2012) from Matthew Quick's 2008 book. It tackled bipolar disorder and second chances, it won more Oscar gold. This came from a screenplay by Eric Warren Singer (The International (2009)), which had made it onto the 2010 Black List of unproduced screenplays. Russell was granted the chance to do a rewrite, and he made it his own. American Hustle is a very offbeat crime drama which has some very funny moments in it, and a complex plot which requires attention, but it's not about the plot, it's about the characters that inhabit this film.

It's 1978, and small time businessmanáIrving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) runs a dry-cleaning business, and he's also a small time con man, doing small hustles to get by in life. When he meetsáSydney Prosser (Amy Adams), the small scams turn into big ones, especially with Sydney pretending to be British AristocratáLady Edith Greensley. They start a relationship, even though Irving is married toáRosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), but they have a son who Irving won't leave, butáRosalyn refuses to divorce Irving. But, Irving and Sydney's life of crime is short lived when they're caught byáFBI agent Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper) during a loan scam. Instead of sending them to jail, Richie persuades Irving and Sydney to team up with him in a case regardingáMayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) of Camden, New Jersey. Polito has been looking to revitalise gambling in Atlantic City, but needs the money to do so, and he has shady connections. Richie's bossáStoddard Thorsen (Louis C.K.) is against the plan, but Richie goes ahead regardless, believing it could expose corruption in the U.S. Government using a fake Sheikh (Michael Pe˝a) as bait. However, not everything goes to plan, Richie comes over too strong on Carmine, who already favours Irving and Carmine befriends Rosalyn too. It's Rosalyn who just about helps to bring down the operation, when she begins seeing mobsteráPete Musane (Jack Huston), and Richie falls in love with Sydney, who hasn't been honest at all.

The film begins with the opening captioná"Some of this actually happened." Which is true, as this film is based upon the FBI ABSCAM operation that occurred during the late 1970's and early 1980's, although it didn't happen in quite the way the film depicts. The truth is far more complicated, the real case took over 2 years to achieve, while the film squeezes it into the space of a few months. In the film, the case is set within New Jersey, while the real case was set up and down the eastern seaboard of America. Russell keeps the film tight and focused, but he manages to have fun with the proceedings, yet at the end of the day, it's all about the characters, they're the one's who are driving the plot along. This is Russell doing a tribute to the films of Martin Scorsese, (especially Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995)), from the characters, the snappy dialogue and even the choice of soundtrack too. (there's one song by Electric Light Orchestra called Long Black Road, which until this film came along was only available in Japan, and it sums up the mood and tone of the film. It's a really compelling and entertaining crime caper, Russell manages to find fun in this true life subject, which you wouldn't think was possible, but he does. It's the camaraderie between the characters which gives the film it's edge. It also captures the gaudiness and excess of the late 80's as well, from the dodgy fashions and hair to the culture going on at that time.

The cast are what make this film worth watching, all giving powerhouse performances throughout, and becoming their characters convincingly, and Russell went with actors he'd worked with before. Beginning with Christian Bale, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing Dickie Eklund in The Fighter (2010), for which Bale lost 60lbs in weight. First scene of the film, we see Bale as Irving, he's very overweight, and bald with a bad combover too. It's a shocking transformation, but Bale gets lost in the role, doing his best De Niro impression too. Amy Adams is a real revelation, as the wild and flirtatious Sydney, who is in the middle of a love triangle between Irving and Richie, and can put on a convincing faux Brit aristocrat accent at the flick of a dime. Bradley Cooper has a very distracting perm here, but he has a cockiness and confidence which almost blows the operation, and has a high opinion of himself bordering on insubordination. Renner can do no wrong at the minute, and as Carmine Polito, he might be doing illegal activities to get the money, but the fact is, he's a likeable and friendly character, and you don't care that he's breaking the law, you want to see him get away with it. Lawrence, hot from her Oscar win for Silver Linings Playbook, reunites with director Russell to play Irving's estranged wife Rosalyn, the film's wild card, a care-free spirit whose mouth runs away with her, and puts the first nails in the coffin for the operation. Lawrence is just a force of nature here, one whose entrance into this inner circle leads a path of destruction.áLouis C.K. has an amusing cameo as Richie's exasperated boss who has to foot the bill for Richie's operation, much to his chagrin. Oh, and there's a special guest appearance from an unbilled Robert De Niro, as old school mobster Victor Tellegio, who is key to the operation.



It's a complex film, but you won't be worrying about trying to keep up with the plot, you'll be more interested in the characters, and what's going to become of them in the end. It's just a fun and exciting ensemble piece, where Russell has brought together some of the very best talent working in cinema today, and it's played against one of the brightest and colourful decades of the 20th Century, with queasy designs and elaborate patterns. It say a lot about the politics of the time, when the mob ran most of the big businesses in America, but that was about to come to an end soon. Plus, the whole ABSCAM operation was essentially a form of entrapment, luring politicians into breaking the law when they might not anyways, plus it put public trust with the American government back years, and this wasn't long after Watergate either, especially as this was, more or less, ran by a criminal. However, American Hustle deserves all the praise it's getting, it's a showcase of great talent, and while it might only be loosely based on real events, it doesn't matter at all, it makes for a good story and it's a film which puts it's actors first, then it deals with the story much later on, maybe in the editing suite. Russell, whose career was nearly on the skids with his temper a decade ago, is back on top, and he's here to stay again. It'll be really exciting to see what he tackles next, if his last two films and this are anything to go by, we should be very excited indeed.
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