Monday, December 30, 2013

'American Hustle' sparkly bit of '70s fun - and a great film to boot

This review was originally posted at KPC Media Group's website. You can read the original review here. It was also published in KPC's three daily papers. Reprinted with permission.

Conventional wisdom says that a movie that features nothing but deplorable characters with very few redeeming qualities won't work.

But conventional wisdom flies out the window in the face of a crime film as delightful as "American Hustle." While it does indeed feature some pretty terrible people in the leading roles, everything is just so glittery, funny and so darn likeable that there isn't anything to do except love this film.

The movie, based loosely on the FBI's ABSCAM operation, follows con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his beautiful partner-in-crime, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). The pair is doing well for themselves, embezzling and selling fake art, until they're caught by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). DiMaso is looking to make a name for himself in the FBI, and in exchange for letting them avoid a long stint in jail, he has them help him take down Camden, New Jersey, mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), who is trying to raise money to open casinos in Atlantic City. Unfortunately, they almost immediately get in way over their heads, especially when Irving's nutty wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), gets involved.

The people in this movie are all pretty awful people, when you really think about their behavior. Irving and Sydney are conning people left and right, with Sydney especially adept at using her feminine wiles to play Irving and Richie against each other. Irving is, of course, a cheater and a terrible husband to Rosalyn, who is unstable and goofy, but also smart enough to be excessively manipulative. Richie is an incredibly angry, unstable person himself. The nicest person in the movie is Carmine Polito, the guy that our "heroes" are trying desperately to catch bribing government officials.

And yet, they're all so likeable and sympathetic in their own ways. Their motivations, while morally questionable at best, are also incredibly understandable. They are ambitious and desire to climb the ladder of life by any means necessary. Who hasn't had a moment of that ambition? They only really get into trouble when they try to climb too high, too quickly. And as they do get into trouble, it's a blast to watch - the situations are so ridiculous, and they just keep piling up and causing more and more crazy problems.

"American Hustle" is a dynamic, energetic movie that is absolutely irresistable. It's the same talent that was on display in director David O. Russell's Oscar-nominated "Silver Linings Playbook" last year. I didn't find "American Hustle" as cozy or as compelling as "Silver Linings," which is one of my favorite movies I've seen in years, but "Hustle" has the same snappy dialogue, quick editing and dark humor that makes a movie like this so fun to watch.

It helps that the lead actors are perfectly cast. I was thrilled to see such a high-caliber cast in a movie, and they didn't disappoint. There is sleaze all over the screen - Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper made my skin crawl at times, and Amy Adams can turn from icy to sexy on a dime and make it completely believable - but there also is charisma and chemistry everywhere. Especially delightful is Jennifer Lawrence in a rather small but completely memorable role as Rosalyn. She's deliciously daffy in the role, and the screen lights up even brighter every time she's on it. It just reiterates my opinion that Lawrence is one of the most talented people in Hollywood right now.

"American Hustle" is rounded out with the perfect tone of the costumes and sets. The movie has a wonderful sense of time and place, in the overblown, scuzzy late 70s. The outfits, the hair, the decor - it all just screams 1978. That's the cherry on top of this wild sundae. It's already a treat to watch because of the story and characters and acting, and then the movie is just that much better because it's also an eye-searing spectacle.

"American Hustle" is clearly gunning for an Oscar, and it definitely deserves the buzz its receiving. It's an energetic, entertaining, darkly funny, well-told story with an all-star cast that elevates the movie into the stratosphere. It's definitely not a feel-good movie, but it sure does feel good to watch it anyway.

Jenny's Take: See it tonight.
(Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence. Runs 138 minutes.)

No comments:

Post a Comment