The opening sequence of “American Hustle” bears an eerie resemblance to the first few minutes of another Christian Bale film. Yet, instead of the narcissist narration, the great hair and the killer abs, we’re introduced to a portly man with a combover and a very disco-themed sense of style: Irving Goffman. Definitely a far cry from Patrick Bateman.
Similarities are scattered about this movie. From a clear display of mental instability on the part of Bradley Cooper’s character to the use of dance as a way of furthering a romantic connection (from the ballroom scene in Silver Linings to the dizzying disco dance between Sydney and Richie in Hustle), we see some recurring themes from last year’s Silver Linings Playbook used well in this movie. Even the cameo of a certain Hollywood veteran is from the previous film.
But don’t get me wrong: American Hustle is not Silver Linings set in the 1970s meets Dicky Eklund. This is a whole other film, one that seems to have more personality, more flair, and (oddly) more cleavage. It’s a loose dramatization of the Abscam sting operation, an FBI bust during the late 1970s that led to the arrest of a number of congressmen and senators. The characters in the film are loosely based on real life people.
Bale and Amy Adams play con artist lovers who are caught by Cooper, the FBI agent, and forced to participate in the operation or face jail time. Jennifer Lawrence plays Bale’s unpredictable wife Roslyn, and Jeremy Renner plays the innocent New Jersey mayor dragged into the fray that stains his career.
Both Adams and Lawrence play strong, unstable female leads. Many lauded Jennifer’s role in last year’s Silver Linings, yet she one-upped her previous role with Roslyn. It’s remarkable how well Adams has grown– from playing the air-headed princess in Disney’s “Enchanted”, she’s grown to portray a smart, sexy con artist with a hidden agenda. Adams has received numerous nominations before, but this role deserves due recognition. Let’s hope she gets it.
Despite the overwhelming physical transformation, many are saying this isn’t Christian Bale at his best. At some point, they’re right– yet overall they’re wrong. In Hustle, we’re treated once more to an immersive portrayal. We spend half the film seeing Bale in shades and only recognize him once those signature Batman eyes make an appearance towards the end of the film. He gives us what any actor should– a portrayal which sees him immerse himself into a whole other persona. An incredible sight to behold.
Honestly, Cooper has yet to get to award-worthy when it comes to his acting. But he’s getting there: Silver Linings is enough indication of that. Unfortunately Hustle was an almost-repeat of Silver Linings– the only difference being the hair, the time period and the occupation. I saw nothing new with him in this movie. Renner was almost forgettable, unfortunately– but the Jersey accent was legit (is he from there?).
Hustle’s narrative can be dizzying at first, but it falls right on its feet as the movie goes on. In medias res seems to be the new in thing in film for this year, as even 12 Years A Slave opts for the same technique. In terms of costume design, Hustle gets the look right and could almost be in close contention with Gatsby for the Best Costume Design trophy come March.
Overall, American Hustle is smart, snappy and pulls heartstrings when it can. David O Russell is on the way to becoming a Hollywood great with a distinct brand of filmmaking that seems to resonate well with the current generation. He doesn’t stick to one particular genre and instead makes movies that could easily be likened to life itself– complete with the good parts (comedy), the bad parts (drama) and everything in between.