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Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) and Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) walk down Lexington Ave. in Columbia Pictures' AMERICAN HUSTLE
Photo by: Francois Duhamel
© 2013 Annapurna Productions LLD, All Rights Reserved
2013, 138 minutes
Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content, and brief violence

Review by Joshua Handler

David O. Russell is on a roll.  In 2010, he made a massive comeback with The Fighter.  Last year, he followed up The Fighter with the even better Silver Linings Playbook.  Now, he has American Hustle, another winner and bona-fide awards contender.  Smashing together his Fighter and Silver Linings casts, he puts together Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence along with Jeremy Renner for American Hustle.  The film tells a fictionalized version of the ABSCAM scandal of the 1970s.  This narrative follows an FBI man (Cooper) who arrests two con artists (Bale and Adams) and forces them to take down the mayor of Camden, New Jersey (Renner).  

The screenplay was written by Russell and Eric Singer who make the most out of the already incredibly odd history.  From the opening scene of Christian Bale putting on a ridiculous toupee, I was laughing.  This opening scene epitomizes the tone of the film.  Hustle never takes itself too seriously, which works in its favor.  The situations that Russell and Singer set up are so outrageous that comedy would be the only way to play them.  The dialogue is witty and fast and the movie moves at a very fast pace.  138 minutes have never whizzed by like this before.  

Russell directs this film with his usual passion and energy.  With Russell's brilliantly offbeat sensibilities, Hustle becomes something of a genius piece of cinema.  Many shots use the signature Russell dolly-in on a person's face to emphasize emotion or an expression.  With the amusing nature of the characters, these prove to be extremely effective.

The cast is dead-on.  While Adams (one of my favorite actors working today) isn't the best fit for the part (her precise diction doesn't always work here since she's playing a con artist), she works extremely well with Bale and Cooper, making their scenes together a complete delight. Bale gained a lot of weight for this part and his dedication to the role shows.  He makes his character, Irving Rosenfeld, an endearingly sleazy schlub.  Nothing ever comes off as forced, and through his natural charisma, he shines.  Cooper is hilarious as Richie DiMaso, the FBI agent in charge of Bale and Adams' characters.  Because he's from the FBI, he thinks he's smarter than the two con artists, which is proven wrong time and time again, making him look like an idiot.  This role is a big change of pace from Silver Linings Playbook (Cooper was Oscar-nominated for that incredible performance) and the fact that Cooper pulls it off beautifully shows his versatility.

Jennifer Lawrence, however, steals the show.  As Irving Rosenfeld's wife, Rosalyn, she is loud, sexy, and hilarious.  She is the highlight of every single scene she's in.  All of the class that Lawrence has brought to her other roles is thrown away for this one, making her an irreverent delight to watch.  This is a performance that should win her another Oscar. 

The period detail for this film is impeccable and very funny, particularly the hair.  I already discussed Bale's hair, but Cooper's is curly (and in one hilarious scene, he's wearing curlers), and Lawrence's hair is just huge.  The soundtrack for the film is superb, featuring some of the best songs of the '70s. 

Overall, American Hustle is a hugely entertaining piece of filmmaking from one of the best directors working today.  This is a fast-paced film that will surely thrill audiences when it hits theaters next week.  If the massive success of Russell's past two films means anything, this film should be another hit.  I enjoyed every minute.

For those who cannot wait until December 13 to see American Hustle, the New York Film Critics National Series is showing the film on December 10 in theaters across the nation.  Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers will also be conducting a Q&A with co-writer/director David O. Russell from New York City and this Q&A will be live broadcast across the nation to whichever theaters are participating in this series.  Check here to see if your theater is hosting a screening.



  1. This is an overrated movie very the taste of silly critics.

    1. Anonymous,
      One of the points of writing reviews is to fuel discussion. Instead of dismissing mine and my colleagues' tastes in movies as silly, why not tell me why you felt the film was overrated. The beauty of cinema is that we all have different opinions on the films we see. When people start dismissing critics' opinions simply because we are critics, it doesn't help create a suitable atmosphere to discuss - it creates an unfriendly atmosphere. We may devote our lives to something that many keep simply as a form of entertainment, but don't forget we are all audience members looking to enjoy ourselves. So, I'd love to hear your opinion - spoiler-free, of course. I appreciate the fact that you (presumably) took the time to read my review and comment.

      All the best,
      Joshua Handler

    2. Wow Josh, well said. I will be bookmarking your reviews from now on :)

  2. Different Anonymous from the idiot above. No mention of Renner in your review. Was his performance that forgettable? Some reviewers have said he seems out of place because his character isn't as fleshed out and others say he does lovely subtle work that's some of his best since Hurt Locker and The Town. And that Elvis/rockabilly pompadour on his head is truly epic. So...where do you stand in regards to Renner?

    1. Thanks for pointing out that I forgot to mention Renner! While he wasn't given as showy a part as the other four, he was still very good and the most sympathetic character. The material doesn't call for a HURT LOCKER or TOWN performance. If you want a truly extraordinary upcoming performance, look for James Gray's THE IMMIGRANT (which I reviewed) in the spring. Renner, Cotillard, and Phoenix.

    2. Thanks! I am desperately awaiting the US release for The Immigrant.