When you walk into a film that screams Oscar bait, your expectations are automatically shifted. Ask a critic, and he or she can deny it until they die, but it’s hard to judge a film destined for Academy Award treatment in the same manner as others. If anything, one can be harder on these films because they are loaded with so much talent and ambition.
While imperfect and a little long winded, David O. Russell’s follow up to Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle is a wildly funny look back at the Helter Skelter days of the 1970’s and how a great con could topple not just the law but organized crime as well. The moment the credits roll, the sound of the era and the looks swell your lenses and take you right back to that period of time where looks traveled farther than your words or integrity did. The film opens on a potbellied Bale arranging his elaborate hairpiece/comb-over special and it’s a sight that sets you up for the entire film. The confidence of Russell and his cast guide you through the more uneven and glossy parts of the film.
The story is a fictional tale built on the real life event called the Abscam Scandal. Russell wrote the script with Eric Singer and the dialogue crackles throughout the entire film, picking up a plot that sometimes slows down too much and leaves a viewer’s eyes running too far ahead of its mind. American Hustle doesn’t con the viewer but the script, direction and cast do things right enough to keep you on your toes until the satisfying finale.
You can tell actors love to work with the writer/director, because the cast(full of Russell regulars) is electric here in roles that live and die on go for broke sizzle. Every bit of dialogue comes out of the actor’s mouth like a bullet with a license to kill. Bale, the most transformative actor of his generation, turns in a heartfelt performance as a man who could con his way out of a burning building yet has vulnerabilities that are way too visible. Adams is lady red fury, using her body and no bullshit attitude to show you a woman of action.
Cooper is wildly hilarious, once again showing the energy and will to go over the top yet keep his feet grounded in the character’s complexities. His FBI agent is a loose cannon but we soak up all the perm job included intensity given off by Cooper, reborn under Russell’s tutelage.
Lawrence shows you why she is an actress to reckon with, going off the chain here with her unstable housewife who is as fit for marriage as an old building is for a wrecking ball. This is the farthest she can get from Katniss Everdeen and it’s a treat to behold. Renner’s work as the blinded noble figure of authority is perfect, and the surprise of the cast comes in the form of respected comedian Louis CK.
His work as Cooper’s boss here is outrageously funny and lightens the mood of the sometimes top heavy film. His scenes with Cooper are so well acted that you think the two were actually brothers in another life. You will leave the theater talking about the “fishing pond story”. Just wait until you see Cooper’s impersonation of CK. It’s brilliant and had me falling out of my seat.
When the film is at its best is during the comedic moments. Cooper’s wild insane moments with CK or the actors working together to pull off the biggest con of all time. When the film dips into romance and relationships, it slows down a bit but luckily doesn’t move too far away from wild sex appeal. This film had me laughing out loud and the trailers don’t do the comedy justice. That could have been on purpose.
Russell’s film would have sank without the brilliant work of a cast full of pros, young and old, veteran to the screen or new to it. His ability to cast the right actor in the right role and pull a great performance from that person is amazing and deserves recognition.
Will American Hustle win a lot of Oscars? I can’t tell you that right now but I can say this. It is wildly funny, wonderfully acted and has a confidence that can’t be taught or bought. Here, the juice is worth the squeeze. Go see it. I may tag along with you just to hear that wickedly cool soundtrack again.