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'American Hustle': Con artists, yes, but many more pros (review)

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American Hustle (movie)

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With “inspired by a true story” blockbusters on the rise, it’s only appropriate that “American Hustle” jostled into theaters. A comedic take on the ABSCAM scandal, the film opens with a witty “Some of this actually happened.” Sure, David O. Russell’s stylish creation may borrow from historical events, but the movie strays quite a bit. That’s not at all to say that you shouldn’t check out “American Hustle.” Despite heavy handed artistic license, the tale is compelling, well-acted, and sly enough to keep audiences guessing til the credits roll. One of 2013’s best flicks, it’s beginning to trickle into mainstream theaters so browse the local listings.

Set in 1978, “American Hustle” follows FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) in his attempted collaboration with con artist couple Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). DiMaso busted Rosenfeld and Prosser for loan fraud, however he agrees to let the pair free if they cooperate with him on four cases. In the course of the arrests, the trio become entangled in a web of political corruption, targeting New Jersey mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). DiMaso’s superior, Stoddard Thorsen (Louis C.K.) protests, yet DiMaso et al disobey his orders and continue with their investigation, much of which involves entrapment.

Paralleling the political intrigue is a convoluted love square involving DiMaso, Rosenfeld, Prosser and Rosenfeld’s estranged wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). While the ABSCAM scenes are stellar as the foundation, the character development garnishes are the juicy meat of the film. Being con artists, it’s assumed that Prosser and Rosenfeld fulfill hidden agendas. However Bale and Adams’ convincingly manipulative acting jobs create the feeling that the viewer is missing the punch line. Their interactions together, as well as the romance between Prosser and DiMaso offer the sensation that there’s something dwelling just below the surface. Audiences aren’t positive whether there’s a single, double, or even triple feint occurring.

Bradley Cooper plays a clearly troubled FBI agent, constantly fluctuating between emotions. DiMaso seems akin to “Silver Linings Playbook” protagonist Pat Solitano Jr. (Bradley Cooper), another Russell directed flick. The quirky role is really brought to life through Cooper’s physical energy, emphatically gesticulating one moment then burying his face in his palm the next. Christian Bale harkens back to his “ The Machinist” days with a greasy con artist donning a bad toupee. Don’t expect the fit, charming Bruce Wayne to waltz on-screen. Similarly, Amy Adams as Prosser, Rosenfeld’s partner/lover/enemy/muse is absolutely lovely and helps establish the engaging atmosphere that magnetizes viewer attention. Jennifer Lawrence, who worked with Cooper and Russell on “Sliver Linings Playbook,” shared a smaller role, lighting up the screen. She not only added ample humor, but served as the perfect foil for Adams bringing a different manipulation to the narrative.

With the fantastic cast and players, setting propels “American Hustle” ahead of other competitors on the marquee. Attire feels plucked straight from the late ‘70s, replete with enough gold chains, half-way unbuttoned shirts and tufts of chest hair to please Barry Gibb. Appropriately, the soundtrack (equally as entertaining as the film), features the Bee Gees, America, and Duke Ellington. There’s actually a minor plot point involving Ellington, a small but appreciated cementation of era. One particularly tense scene blares an Arabic version of “White Rabbit” by Mayssa Karaa. Though the original version is undoubtedly a staple of any good music collection, Karaa’s rendition fits the situational needs of “American Hustle.” Not only does the music provide a toe-tapping backdrop, but it further solidifies the physical sense of place.

Despite phenomenal acting, intricate characters, and a fabulous setting there are a few minor scuffs marring an otherwise flawless production. Namely, Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. Sure, she’s a supporting character, but Lawrence tends to steal scenes with her sassy facial expressions and attitude. Additionally, the historical accuracy of “American Hustle” isn’t quite textbook. Don’t take the movie as gospel. While some may be put off by the substantially loose interpretation of the ABSCAM events, this isn’t necessarily a con. After all, “American Hustle” aims to entertain, not convey objective facts. And entertain it certainly does well. The ending slings a hefty curveball, and the entire flick grasps your attention, relinquishing its hold only once the credits begin. “American Hustle” warrants a box-office excursion after which you won’t believe a mere two hours and 18 minutes hustled by.

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