Friday, January 3, 2014

Film Review: American Hustle

David O Russell has had a very interesting career, and it has been a great deal of fun to watch it develop. Intriguing films like Three Kings (1999) and I Heart Huckabees (2004) gave way to Oscar contenders like The Fighter (2010) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012). Hustle lands somewhere in between all of his work. Like his early work, it is unapologetic in its ambition, yet it has the polish of his recent work at the same time. In tone, it resembles the Coen brothers, and in story it is not dissimilar to a younger Tarantino.

The casting is interesting - not perfect, but still great. Christian Bale is Irving, a low-stakes New York conman who meets Sydney (Amy Adams), whose fiery intelligence and insatiable ambition intrigues him but ultimately lands the pair with Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper), an FBI agent who hopes to parlay the duo's skill into a bigger political catch that will catapult his career into the stratosphere. It should be mentioned that the film is a loose play on the ABSCAM fiasco of the late '70s.

Story: 3/5 - It's a fun story, to be sure, and I really like the role that ambition plays. Everybody has their own checks, and it is the characters without restraint that drive the plot. When Irving can't control his wife (Jennifer Lawrence), she gets entangled with the mob. When the FBI can't reign in Richie, he continually escalates the situation. The amount of twists made me think of Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), but I still found it relatively predictable. I wasn't a fan of the narrator, either. It wasn't really necessary and kind of dumbed the movie down.

Writing: 5/5 - The writing was thrilling, and really made me think of the Coens. You get to meet all of these characters, and somehow to like them all. Every scene is well written, and some are absolutely hilarious. The tension doesn't always work. It's not perfect, but it's close.

Acting: 5/5 - Where to begin? Christian Bale and Amy Adams as leads aren't going to disappoint, you know that when you buy your ticket. Bradley Cooper swings for the fences as the maniacal sometimes-antagonist FBI agent (think of Gary Oldman's Norman Stansfield from Leon, but with more incompetence and less evil). Jennifer Lawrence is sultry, reckless, and impossible to ignore, like a train about to go off the rails. That I want to bang. Louis CK is hilarious in a bit part as Cooper's commanding officer, and I continue to be impressed by Robert De Niro's latest work in a cameo as a mob boss. Jeremy Renner is solid as a New Jersey mayor committed to doing the right thing for his people, by any means necessary. This is a Best Cast contender.

Aesthetics: 4/5 - The music is a blast. The costumes and sets are awesome. It's really just a good-looking film.

Final Score: 85% - Not the Best Picture contender I envisioned, but its still one of the most entertaining pictures of the year.

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