MRR Review: "American Hustle"

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The story of a con artist and his partner in crime, who were forced to work with a federal agent to turn the tables on other cons, mobsters, and politicians - namely, the volatile mayor of impoverished Camden, New Jersey.
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Movie Review: "American Hustle"

Rating: R

Length: 138 minutes

Release Date: December 20, 2013

Directed by: David O. Russell

Genre: Crime/Drama

"American Hustle" is a wild, thrilling comedic drama that tells a highly fictionalized version of a real FBI sting operation that brought down several high-ranking politicians on corruption charges in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This version of the story follows con man Irving Rosenfeld, played by a barely recognizable Christian Bale, as he and his partner Sydney (Amy Adams) are recruited by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to help with the investigation.

The film follows Irving and Sydney as they meet and team up. He is an experienced grifter who owns a handful of legitimate businesses along with his scams. She is just learning the trade after leaving her hometown, adopting an English accent and styling herself Lady Edith Greenley. They develop a scam that centers around fake loans and all goes well until they target FBI agent Richie DiMaso. Instead of arresting them, he recruits them, promising that if they assist with his sting operation, they will not face charges for their scam.

What follows is a madcap sting targeting Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), the mayor of Camden, New Jersey. Although Irving and Sydney are just trying to stay out of prison, they find themselves drawn into a difficult situation when Irving begins to feel sorry for Carmine and the Mafia becomes involved with the scheme. In addition, Richie develops feelings for Sydney, and Irving struggles to deal with his wild ex-wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

The film is set in the 1970s, and the costumes and set pieces display a stunning attention to detail. Although the film makes plenty of jokes about the time period, such as an opening scene detailing Irving's painstaking hairstyling process that gives him a ridiculous comb-over, it winds up feeling more like an homage to the era than a mockery of it. The costumes are wonderful, especially Sydney's gorgeous disco gowns.

The cast is part of the reason this film shines. Christian Bale is known for his amazing transformations, and he does it again in "American Hustle." Irving Rosenfeld is a fat, slouchy bald man, and in order to play him, Bale gained forty pounds and developed terrible posture. Between that and the awful hair, it is hard to tell that the character is played by Bale.

Sydney gives Amy Adams a rare chance to play the bad girl, which she does to perfection. Sydney is likeable but ultimately self-serving. Unlike Irving, who seems to see his cons as a means to an end, Sydney's primary goal is to simply become a grifter. Her biggest dream is to change who she is and truly become someone else. This is why she began playing the role of a British aristocrat, and it is one of the traits that make it so easy to sympathize with her even as she cons people out of their money.

Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn gives another unexpected but excellent performance. Rosalyn is unpredictable and dangerous, a skilled manipulator and a wild force that threatens to bring down the entire sting operation. Lawrence fully inhabits the role, bringing Rosalyn to life in a vivid and dramatic way that is a stark contrast to many of her recent roles, in which she has played honest and upstanding characters.

Bradley Cooper does a great job as Richie DiMaso as well. Richie is shown as a somewhat unpredictable, unhappy agent whose main goal seems to be staying away from his desk. He is portrayed as a loose cannon and often fights with his supervisor, Stoddard Thorsen, played by a serious Louis C.K. Cooper and Louis C.K. are a joy to watch together.

"American Hustle" draws this diverse cast together in a fun and exciting way, creating a movie that is more than just a standard crime drama. Each character is struggling to live by a moral and ethical code, although none of them could really be considered a good person. The film has no real heroes but no real villains either. Instead, it tells the story of a group of flawed individuals trying not to do too much harm while still making a profit. The great casting and performances make it easy to sympathize with each character, even if it is hard to like them at times.

"American Hustle" has already won Best Film and Best Screenplay from the New York Film Critics Circle, and for good reason. It is exciting, passionate, and touching, with a good dose of humor and drama thrown in for good measure. It is one of the must-see films of the year.

Rating: 3 out of 5