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'American Hustle' review: A greasy yet comical game of subterfuge

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American Hustle


A con man with a drastic comb-over named Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his provocative, British imitating partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) get caught trying to scam the short-fused and erratic FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) and are forced to make busts with the authorities in order to stay out of prison. But Richie sets his sights too high and shoves Irving and Sydney into the underbelly of New Jersey which includes some of the most wily politicians and aggressive mobsters in the nation.

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Director David O. Russell has been one of the most satisfying directors to keep your eye on ever since he came back from a six year film directing hiatus between 2004 and 2010. Russell continues to top himself with each outing with "The Fighter" being an impressive comeback of sorts in 2010 and "Silver Linings Playbook" being one of the most talked about films of 2012. In 2013, Russell returns with "American Hustle" featuring "Playbook" alumni Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro, "The Fighter" actors Christian Bale and Amy Adams, and Jeremy Renner with hair so perfect it would make Fonzie envious.

"American Hustle" has an opening so simple it's genius. An out-of-shape Christian Bale is seen adjusting and perfecting his comb-over for five glorious minutes after the words "Some of this actually happened," appear on screen. Nearly every character is driven by greed as their flaws only seem to compliment the storyline more and more as the film progresses. It's like adding gasoline to a raging wildfire; undisciplined and out of control yet attention demanding in absolutely every way.

Irving falls in love with Sydney even though he's married to Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and has adopted her son and loves him as his own flesh and blood. The love triangle gets even more disfigured when Sydney starts messing around with Richie who blatantly disregards his fiancé. The film mostly takes place in the late 70s and relocates from New York to New Jersey once the main storyline kicks into gear. Gambling has just been introduced to the state of New Jersey thanks to Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner); a man loved by everyone who just wants to rebuild Atlantic City but occasionally does shady things in order to what's best for the people.

Like "Silver Linings Playbook," "American Hustle" features a dance sequence. One of the main differences is that dancing was used as a way for the characters to connect in "Playbook." The dancing felt very neat, Pat and Tiffany became more drawn to one another, and dancing was shown in this very positive light that made it seem like an art form. In "Hustle," the dancing is sweaty, the people are smarmy and rubbing up on one another, and the lighting makes you sick. The whole sequence smells of bathroom sex and you can practically taste it. Dancing in "Silver Linings Playbook" is like making love to someone you care about for the first time; it's tender and intimate but a little sloppy due to inexperience. In "American Hustle," the dancing is rough, it's sloppy, and it's between two people who not only barely know each other but have done it countless times before. It's like the beginning of car sex without the opportunity to finish.

The cast really lets loose in the film. Bradley Cooper unleashes this savage side of himself you've never really seen before. Richie is a loose cannon. The character is so angry in a scary kind of way. Jeremy Renner portrays a character that seems very out of the box for a guy who has mostly portrayed weapon experts. Carmine has this Robin Hood trait to him; he deals with the mafia and the politicians so the people don't have to in hopes of expanding the economy of the city. He has a heart of gold and a face everyone loves. Jennifer Lawrence adds a few new highlights to how well she can play crazy, unpredictable, and manipulative. Christian Bale is able to transform himself yet again and is nearly unrecognizable as Irving Rosenfeld. Irving has this car salesman quality to him that you can't stand and makes your skin crawl, but he has a way of getting exactly what he wants.

Seeing Louis C.K. with a fairly substantial role is quite a surprise though. However you will be left craving an ending to that ice fishing story he always starts and never finishes. Lastly, Robert De Niro only has a very small supporting role in the film, but it's easily one of the best roles he's done in years. It's exactly what the actor is known best for. You can feel the tension in the room during the meeting with him and are completely thrown off guard by what he has up his sleeve.

David O. Russell has created this riveting world full of eccentric, well-rounded characters. "American Hustle" is a crime drama that is constantly engaging, hilarious, and stimulating. Christian Bale is sleazy perfection.

"American Hustle" is officially released in theaters tomorrow, December 20.


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