American Hustle: Christian Bale Leads a Smarmy Scorsese Riff into the Gaudy 1970s

American Hustle: Christian Bale Leads a Smarmy Scorsese Riff into the Gaudy 1970s

AMERICAN HUSTLE Stars galore! Costumes galore! Beige galore! Plus Jennifer Lawrence’s side-boob!

Christian Bale has transformed himself in all sorts of ways, but his turn as Irving Rosenfeld is something else again. It's such a striking transformation that the camera can't tear away from Bale's body throughout the opening scene of American Hustle. His pasty beer gut juts forward proudly, suggesting chronic constipation. We watch him construct a mind-boggling comb-over that another character describes as "elaborate." He dresses like a clown, all loud prints and ascots and wide lapels and materials that can't support even the barest suggestion of a natural fiber. But Bale instinctually finds the dignity in Rosenfeld, a two-bit hustler from the Bronx. At least he's got a realistic sense of scale. Rosenfeld sells counterfeit artwork and scams people out of a few thousand dollars at a time. Nothing grandiose, nothing fancy.

Bale leads a cast of excellent actors who are becoming regulars in David O. Russell productions: Bradley Cooper is Richie DiMaso, a jittery FBI agent with a tightly wound perm; Jennifer Lawrence is a lively young mother who knows her big mouth will be the thing that keeps people paying attention to her long after her looks are gone. Robert De Niro makes a short but spectacular appearance. And some new names are added to the Russell Regular Role Call: Louis C.K. and Michael Peña have small but important parts, Jeremy Renner plays the good-hearted goombah mayor of Camden, New Jersey, and most notably, Amy Adams stars as Rosenfeld's partner in crime, an ambitious con artist named Sydney Prosser.

It's hard to pull off a con movie these days, when the impulse to get too elaborate has taken over. Sometimes big and dumb works (Ocean's Eleven) and sometimes it doesn't (Matchstick Men). But Hustle shares Rosenfeld's good sense of perspective, even as its cons enlarge to contain several reversals of fortune and shifts in scope and size. The movie withholds pertinent information about characters until just the right moment, and it knows how to show its hand before things get too complicated. A good con pulls you close so you can't see it's hiding something important from you; American Hustle works exactly like that.

Some of Hustle's more lavish embraces don't work. The wardrobe and hairstyles are so 1970s period-piece absurdist that they pull you out of the film. And the one thing Jennifer Lawrence can't do, it seems, is maintain a believable New Jersey accent for more than two seconds at a time. All the noise, both from the loudmouthed actors and the gaudy period detail, can get overwhelming.

But with its big-talking swagger, its period-piece glamour, and its huge, dirty-dealing cast, Hustle feels like a response to Scorsese's classic crime films, only built to a less epic, more human scale. These are the characters you see running around in the background of Goodfellas or Casino, trying to scrape together a living while the fat cats live out their huge Greek tragedies. Russell packs the film with popular music, but while Scorsese leans on the iconic rock of the Rolling Stones, Russell prefers the glitzy letdown of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."

The interplay between Bale and Adams is Hustle's sturdy spine. Prosser and Rosenfeld's romance is unlikely, but their relationship feels believable. In their quest to con everyone else out of their money, the pair must try to forge some sort of honesty together. You can't bullshit a bullshitter. recommended


Comments (15) RSS

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Well written, Paul. I am looking forward to this. Check out Lovelace for 1970's authenticity: everything and everyone looks awful.
Posted by meso on December 18, 2013 at 5:00 PM · Report this
3MileAlki 2
I thought this flick was about the swinging 70s? All this talk about affected Jersey accents and con men just leaves me wanting. I live for this kind of movie…helps me relive the most banal period of my life.
Posted by 3MileAlki on December 19, 2013 at 4:51 PM · Report this
Amy Adam's isn't a new comer to David O Russell, she was one of the stars of "The Fighter".
Posted by j2patter on December 19, 2013 at 10:18 PM · Report this
Damn, you lost all credibility when you dissed Matchstick Men, which was a great movie and ten times better than Ocean's Eleven!
Posted by jack chandelier on December 21, 2013 at 9:43 AM · Report this
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lark 6
Viewed "American Hustle" yesterday. A terrific film and highly recommended. While I did think it resembled "Casino", the movie was a unique story in its own right. Bale, Adams, Cooper, Lawrence and Renner are all outstanding. Enjoyed the period costumes and set design as well. Clearly, Russell is becoming one of the better American film directors. I now look forward to his films.
Posted by lark on December 21, 2013 at 3:00 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 7
Maybe I'm wrong and some day you can tell me so, but I'm willing to go on record now as saying that Jennifer Lawrence’s looks aren't going anywhere.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on December 21, 2013 at 3:53 PM · Report this
#7 You have NO credibility with a handle like yours.
Posted by longwayhome on December 21, 2013 at 8:20 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 9

Jennifer Lawrence as Jill Ireland.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on December 21, 2013 at 9:41 PM · Report this
Paul, you fucking suck.
Posted by lake_superior on December 22, 2013 at 12:47 AM · Report this
I thought the principal characters in Casino and Goodfellas (Henry Hill, Jimmy Conway, Tommy, Sam Rothstein, Nicky Santoro, etc.) were the characters running around trying to scrape together a living while the fat cats live out their huge Greek tragedies.
Posted by Butch on December 22, 2013 at 12:50 AM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 12


Very true. Casino, Goodfellas, and earlier, Thief (1980) shows that the Made Man can carry a movie, same as interesting a character as a don, and the Sopranoes showed that the mob does not end at the Hudson River or the Nassau County line.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on December 22, 2013 at 4:36 AM · Report this
AH seems like a kinder, gentler, less memorable incarnation of Goodfellas. The aesthetic, pacing, and directorial methodology are almost identical. The acting is mostly first-rate; Amy Adams is particular is the emotional lifeblood of story. But the story is thin, and the direction is derivative and stale. AH is moderately entertaining in the moment, but the lack of substance makes in mostly forgettable afterward (much like the 70s).
Posted by Yeti1971 on December 31, 2013 at 9:38 PM · Report this
i am not excited to see these ladies with their older boyfriends be sharon stone uh uh. plus i am satisfied with the cast Keanu has in Ronin 47, awesome hot babes already, and sophia bush is the bomb, i wish they could have gotten her, plus also, Bradley cooper his eyes excite me, i just wanted to watch him and his eyes and be intrigued by jeremy renner also, he would intrigue me probably.
Posted by misterdanton on January 8, 2014 at 10:36 AM · Report this
I loved this movie. I felt the actors/characters were totally unique, intricate and way cool. Frankly, Scorcese's Italian gangster shtick is extremely over rated to me. The characters are all the same. Tough talking , violent, Italiany fake thugs who go to church and kill people. American Hustle was far more brilliant than a bunch of identical drones with their dumb , oblivious housewives
that populate Scorcese's tired routine.
Posted by Derelect St. Homo on March 23, 2014 at 10:12 PM · Report this

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