American Hustle

December, 2013, Comedy

 

This was a vintage year for American movies; there have been more noteworthy domestic films released this year than in the last decade - - and a number of them have been sandwiched into theater schedules before New Year’s with the hope of becoming Oscar contender - - and this raucous, deliciously conceived scam is among the year’s very best. It’s a highly fictionalized riff on the notorious Abscam scandal of the early 80’s that  landed a senator and half-dozen U.S. Congressmen in jail on bribery charges following an elaborate sting operation  conceived and executed by the F.B.I. and a quartet of con artists.

 Director David Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter, 3Kings) finally delivers a movie worthy of the excessive praise  lavished on his previous films. The director and co-screenwriter Eric Singer (The International) have fashioned a screenplay worthy of the movie’s ensemble cast (Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence & Jeremy Renner) in this elaborate study of the mixed motives and low cunning in which F.B.I. agents and swindlers conspired with each other to entice public officials into accepting bribes surrounding the redevelopment of Atlantic City. 

 Small-time grafter Irving Rosenfeld (Bale), his wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and his mistress Sydney Prosser (Adams) augment the income from Irving’s string of Long Island based dry cleaning establishments by selling forged artworks. When caught by agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) in an F.B.I. sting, he forces them into an ethically questionable scheme to entrap  susceptible elected politicians into accepting cash for access to government assistance. As DiMaso expands the scope of his efforts for his own career ambitions, the lines between passion and lust, honesty & dishonesty, truth and con become so thoroughly intertwined that American Hustle becomes a brilliantly conceived update of Damon Runyon’s portrait of New York City’s morally obtuse lowlife’s in the1930’s.

 Unfortunately, the Oscars don’t give statuettes for ensemble acting, but this movie deserves one. Bale and Cooper are the embodiment of ying & yang – a crook who combines his own brand of morality with a convenient disregard for the law vs. a sleazy agent eager to use governmental bureaucracy to destroy others. Adams portrays a woman so confused by her drive to reinvent herself that she teeters on the brink of dissolving into her own lies – which contrasts perfectly with Lawrence’s sublimely juicy airhead, comfortably out of touch with everything except the creature comforts and self-help books that people her personal universe. In the presence of these larcenous shysters, New Jersey mayor Carmine Polito (Renner) could have been nicknamed Steinway; he’s played perfectly by the F.B.I. & the cons alike, all the way to the jailhouse.

 If there’s a modest complaint to be made with Hustle, it lies in the old adage that too much of a good thing tends to take the edge off; at a bit over 2 and ¼ hours, the movie runs perhaps 20 minutes longer than it should – but given the vivid lines the script provides these actors and the flawless manner in which they deliver them with such gusto, this romp of a movie must have been as much fun to make as it is for audiences to watch. So sit back, watch Bale work on his comb-over, catch Adams slip-sliding in and out of her phony British accent, enjoy seeing Cooper’s hair in curlers as he prepares to cheat on his finncee and above all, listen to Lawrence babble through the thought process she employs to justify setting up her philandering husband for a bunch of gangsters… you won’t have more fun than this in the movies all winter long.

 The Verdict? A marvelously written and acted caper movie with nary a misstep. See it. See it. See it!

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