Movies

Movie Review: American Hustle

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untitledDirector David O. Russell (“The Fighter,” ”Silver Linings Playbook”) reunites Oscar-quality co-stars of “The Fighters,”Christian Bale (“The Dark Knight Rises”) with Amy Adams (“Man of Steel”), and “Silver Linings Playbook,”Bradley Cooper (“Limitless”) with Jennifer Lawrence (“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”) in this screwball 70s crime caper dramedy. Jeremy Renner (“The Bourne Legacy”) supports.

Bale, unrecognizable as potbellied, bald with bad comb-over Irving Rosenfeld, a con man running an art forgery and small loan scams with a dry cleaning shop as a front. A character actor, there’s no trace of superhero in him. Irving locks eyes with a seductive grifter, Sydney Prosser (Adams), at a pool party and they hit it off at first sight. They both reinvent themselves to lead better lives. Adams, plunging necklines aside, quietly allures and carries herself with a British upper-class confidence.

Irving is not flying solo; he’s married to Rosalyn (Lawrence) and with a young son. Lawrence, mostly in a party updo, looks like she’s having a ball playing Rosalyn, loose-lips and wildly opinionated. Sydney ups the ante for Irving and together they grow their fraudulent investment business, at least until they get caught by an unruly FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Cooper). Richie ends up falling for Sydney, which complicates their relationships. With rambunctious performance, bearded and perm-curled Cooper is a blast to watch.

Naive yet ambitious, Richie has big dreams and plans to make news for himself (and move out of his mother’s house). His plan is to lure politicians to accept bribes and catch them in the act, even at the disapproval of his boss (Louis C.K.). To do this, he needs Irving’s and Sydney’s cunning expertise. In exchange for their freedom, Irving and Sydney reluctantly agree to cooperate.

The trap is set, which includes another FBI agent (Michael Pena, “The Lincoln Lawyer“) posing as an Arab Sheik looking to make an investment (inspired by the real Abscam sting in 1978). Entrapped is Carmine Polito, Mayor of Trenton, New Jersey. The stake is raised to a dicey level when Jersey’s powerbrokers and mafia get involved in the negotiations to construct casinos and resorts in Atlantic City, for real. At this stage, Richie has the support of an equally ambitious chief prosecutor (Alessandro Nivola), to ensnare all the players, which extends to a senator and a half dozen congressmen.

The thing is Carmine turns out to be pure in his intention. He wants to create new jobs for the people of New Jersey and bring good to the state. He even considers Irving a friend. Irving develops a conscience because of Carmine’s friendship and sincerity. At the same time, he and Sydney must hold up the end of their bargain with the FBI. A wild card in all these is Rosalyn, especially when a mobster (Jack Huston) takes an interest in her. She’s not exactly clueless either and might just blow the entire operation.

It’s been said that Russell would like to focus on the characters, rather than the plot. Each cast member is indeed given the chance to hustle and thrive. But even as the plot starts off as simple, alliance shifts and double-crosses occur. You think you know how it ends, yet it manages to churn out a twist.

I’ve always enjoyed crime capers. It’s a treat to be in on the flimflam or figure out what the swindle is or how the main characters would pull off the scheme. “American Hustle” is no different. The con is on. Enjoy the game!

Copyright (c) 2014. Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven (http://sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: http://twitter.com/the_moviemaven. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com.

"Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven (sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com."

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