Grade: A

Directed by David O. Russell
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner

Fresh off the heels of a pretty successful 2012 with Silver Lining Playbook, director David O. Russell pulls out all of the stops in his new, retro dramedy American Hustle. Starring a who's who of previous Russell stars, the director is clearly more interested in clever character portrayals than any other aspect of the film, bringing out impressive performances from his entire cast.

Set in the late 70's, American Hustle stars with the warning that some of what you're about to see actually happened. Then we're thrust into a world of polyester, changing hairstyles, new inventions, and government conspiracy. Christian Bale stars as Irving Rosenfeld, a con artist who makes a living by selling art replicas to high end clients. When he convinces Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams in a career best role) to join his team as an elegant British counterpart, their plan goes off without a hitch. Then they get caught. Bradley Cooper's detective Richie DiMaso cops a deal with the two allowing them freedom if they help uncover a brooding money scam involving local New Jersey politicians, mainly Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). Thus begins what would become known as ABSCAM in American history.

Russell is known for creating tongue-in-cheek dramas that show real life people, warts and all. This is another clever addition to his canon. He's created a unique, stylized look at a lavish time in America. But behind each hilarious hairdo and costume lies a human being worth knowing, whether they're good or bad. Russell has perfected taking Hollywood stars and turning them into character actors. Bale is almost unrecognizable as the balding oaf that is Irving. Adams completely melts into her sultry role as the sidekick temptress who has the last say. Cooper is at his Silver Linings Playbook level of charisma-meets-insanity. And, Jennifer Lawrence steals the show as Irving's beautiful, but lost, wife. What is supposed to be a small, supporting role, thrusts her to the forefront of memorable scenes. Russell proves quickly that he is an actor's director.

The sets and costumes just add more flare to the already impressive story we're being offered. Everything is fun to look at. The engrossing soundtrack is full of 70's era tunes that put us right in the moment, but never overshadow what we're supposed to be paying attention to. The small cameos work just as perfectly as the main cast. Louis C.K. and Robert DeNiro play against type to great results.

While, just like last year's Silver Linings Playbook, something seems to be missing here, it's hard to tell what it is. The showcase of performances that will go down in movie history here are worth the ticket price alone, as is the smart storytelling. It's a fun time at the theater. I may be too young to remember when all of this really happened, but I like to imagine that American history and politics can be this fun.

Rating: R
Runtime: 138 minutes

No comments: