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Review: 'American Hustle' races to top as Oscar contender

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There’s no surer bet that American Hustle will be a favorite in more than a few major categories for the upcoming Oscars, not to mention from several other critics and industry groups. The film opened Wednesday (Dec. 18).

It will have major competition from the likes of 12 Years a Slave, but make no mistake about it, this will be the film to beat.

The primary reason – a cast that rocks from open frame until the credits roll. That includes lead and supporting players. They take this David O. Russell piece that he wrote and directed and throw themselves into it with gleeful abandon.

It’s an actor’s dream to have such richly written characters to lose themselves in, to be allowed to thoroughly stretch the boundaries of what they can do in a film that’s so completely enjoyable as Hustle which is part pathos, drama and comedy.

Start with Christian Bale, who plays Irving Rosenfeld, a small-time crook who runs a variety of rackets to support his family, an adopted son and a tarty wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). With an extremely bad comb over that has a life of its own and a beer belly that would fry most couch potatoes, Irving succumbs to the charms of fellow con artist Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). They’re good for one another. She elevates his game with a saucy British accent, hot sex and the right attitude and he…ummm…well…ummm. He’s there for her.

They work their cons to pure perfection until they wind up ensnared in an FBI sting run by Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). DiMaso realizes he may have a gift that keeps giving in the duo, who is looking for a deal – any kind of deal – that will keep them out of prison.

They work their way up the criminal chain giving Richie what he wants until they get to Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) the popular mayor of Atlantic City, N.J. Polito wants nothing more than revive his city and he’s more than a bit desperate.

His initial hesitance is overcome by a smooth talking Rosenfeld and soon Polito’s on board with dirty money, shady investors and the Mafia. In the meantime Rosenfeld won’t leave his wife and that’s weighing on his relationship with Sydney threatening to blow up their plans of freedom.

Look at this profile and his recent one in Out of the Furnace and it’s not difficult to see why Bale’s in danger of splitting his Oscar votes. The range displayed between the two shows a master at work.

Adams continues to build her resume with a stirring, humorous turn as Sydney and Lawrence, whom Russell seems to use as a muse will likely get another Academy Award nomination. And Cooper? Handsome, intelligent and skilled? Dangerous. Any guy who put some 1970s-era rollers (the kind moms used to wear) in his hair for the screen deserves heaping amounts of praise.

And what of Russell? He may finally strike Oscar gold after three previous efforts, including last year’s Silver Linings Playbook.

He certainly will have earned it for the fun, intelligent romp that is American Hustle.

Movie: American Hustle
Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner
Studio: Columbia
Rated: R for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence.
Running time: 138 minutes
George’s rating: 4.5-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com

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