American Hustle

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis



            “Some of this is based on truth.” That opening sentence in American Hustle refers loosely to the Abscam scandal of the 1970s when U.S. congressmen and one senator were convicted of bribery in an FBI sting. David O. Russell has written and directed an unpredictable lampoon of a bizarre assortment of con artists who are trying to control the events of their lives while the audience tries to make sense of the plot. Don’t even try.
            The movie sailed into theaters on an enormous wave of positive hype that is mostly justified by the performances of actors who clearly caught the improvised fun David Russell had in mind. My reservation, and I may well be alone here, is that two hours and eighteen minutes of watching cons fleecing each other wear thin, but that may spring from an inner well of earnestness that I try to subdue. With that admission, let’s get to the good parts.
            The movie opens as Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale, transformed and inspired) is readying himself for the day. We watch Irving create his hair with meticulous attention to grotesque detail including fake hair and glue. This prolonged opening scene is David O. Russell, conductor, assembling his characters and setting the tone for his movie. The characters we meet from this point forward create themselves each morning, groundwork for the day’s work of conning other people. Every man and woman is a self-created living, breathing stack of fakery, inside and out. Therein lies the fun.
            In a wonderful scene, Irving presses the button on the circulating clothes rack in his dry cleaning store while giving his new lady friend her pick of the unclaimed clothes. She is Sydney Prosser, aka Lady Edith from England, played perfectly by Amy Adams as an ex-stripper redesigning herself. The con games will spring and spread from this couple until the cast of dozens is involved in the grand extremes of the game of hustle.
            Their third partner appears in the form of Richie DiMaso, (Bradley Cooper) who spends his evenings in miniature curlers in order to be his version of an FBI agent. Just as we are getting accustomed to this trio of frauds, who to our wondering eyes should appear but the astonishingly versatile Jennifer Lawrence as Irving’s wife, Rosalyn. She delivers an incomparable new interpretation of the dumb blonde.
            Irving says it best: “We make the honey pot to attract the bees.” After Conductor Russell sets the tone, all his actors come on board clothed literally and metaphorically in fakery. The camera lingers lovingly on their physical and emotional preparations for whoever it is they will be on a given day for whatever hustle is at hand. To add to the fun, the movie seems wrapped in an atmosphere of improvisation. The best part of all this is watching a fine cast jump into David O. Russell’s vision of personal reinvention as the essential element in practicing the art of survival.


Film title : American Hustle
Distributor : Columbia Pictures
Word Count : 499
Running Time : 2:18
Rating : R

 


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