Entertainment LIFESTYLE  >  Movie Review of the Week: American Hustle

Movie Review of the Week: American Hustle

Movie Review of the Week: American Hustle
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“Some of this actually happened” reads the title card at the start of “American Hustle”, David O. Russell’s feverish swoosh through the sex and scandal of scam artists and con-men in late 70s New York. That is both an admission that this film is based (loosely) on the actual AbScam sting operation that ensnared several Congressmen, including Mayor of Camden New Jersey Angelo Errichetti … and also a warning that viewers should take it all with a healthy pinch of salt.

But if you read about the actual scandal, you’ll find out that some of the more outrageous aspects of the FBI’s operation actually happened even though they play on screen like inventive creations of the screenwriters Eric Singer (“The International”) and Russell.  AbScam unfolded with secret payoffs to politicians, covert Mob involvement and FBI agents posing as Arab Sheikhs. It couldn’t be more cinematic if they had tried. And Russell shoots and edits with a stylistic ode to Martin Scorsese, particularly “Goodfellas” with its voice-over and swirl of montage and colorful characters. Here, the voice-over is provided by several characters, offering a shifting perspective in keeping with the shifting stories being presented on screen.

At the center of the whole affair is hustler Irving Rosenfeld (based on the real-life Mel Weinberg). Irving is played with full-on gusto by Welsh actor Christian Bale. If you saw Bale in “Out of the Furnace” last week, then you’ll be surprised to find him here, sporting a ridiculous comb-over and 40lbs of flab around his middle. He is barely recognizable as the smarmy swindler who coaxes thousands of dollars out of his marks with phony art sales and fake investment schemes. When he hooks up with the equally charming but conniving Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), they become a power couple of the long con. With a fake English accent (Adams makes it credibly intermittent) Sydney pretends to be Lady Edith Greensly with ties to British banking. People can’t wait to part with their money.

Sydney and Irving fall for each other, despite Irving’s stay at home wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and her young son, whom Irving adopted and genuinely cares for. Irving can only keep these two women apart for so long, and eventually Rosalyn risks bringing the whole teetering house of cards down. But not before the FBI has stepped in and “encouraged” Irving and Sydney to work for them in a planned sting to bring down local politicians as well as the common criminals.

The over-zealous FBI agent Richie DiMaso who gets carried away with the power of his position as well as by the allure of the criminal underworld is played by Bradley Cooper with a tight perm and at one point, a suit to make Tony Manero proud. DiMaso’s job is to keep widening the net in order to trap more and more crooked politicians. DiMaso has to convince his taciturn boss (a marvelous Louis C.K.) for the FBI to acquire yachts and jets so that their fake Sheikh (Michael Pena) looks the part. You can hardly believe the chutzpah.

Much of the enjoyment of “American Hustle” is of course watching the costumes and hair-dos and soaking up the fantastic period soundtrack. When Rosalyn dances around her house to Wings’ “Live and Let Die”, you will want to leap up and break into song with her. If Russell stages some of his scenes with a Scorsese-like knack for music, then he has learnt from a master.

The four lead actors here are all superb. Adams and Bale were in Russell’s “The Fighter” and Lawrence and Cooper in “Silver Linings Playbook” and clearly they thrive under Russell’s direction, however intense his sets are rumored to be!  In a dynamic, fast-paced work, Lawrence manages to stand out as the floozy wife of Bale; she’s funny, dangerous, sexy and sad all at once.

“American Hustle” has already won end of the year critics’ prizes and it won’t be short on Oscar nominations either. Pondering the real-life background is fascinating of course (Weinberg’s life can be read about in Robert Greene’s book “The Sting Man”). But sitting back and reveling in a brilliantly directed, head-rush of a thrill-ride is where the real fun lies.

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