Essentially merging the stars of his previous two films, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, director David O. Russell has concocted a greasy, bubbly and bittersweet cocktail with his latest film, American Hustle (opening today). But don't mistake greasy for slick, as this one doesn't go down quite as smooth as it's intended. While American Hustle is emerging as a front-runner this awards season, the film's parts are greater than its sum.
The Fighter's Christian Bale and Amy Adams lead a cast full of Silver Linings Playbook veterans, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro. Joining the fun is Jeremy Renner as a crooked mayor, who is the focus of an FBI sting operation that is loosely based on the real-life "Abscam" case in the late 70s. Bale transforms into a bloated, balding con-man named Irving Rosenfeld, whose partner, the Brit Sydney Prosser (Adams) team up and are forced to take part in the operation, led by the maniacal FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Cooper). As their "play" plays out, they get tangled in a web of corrupt politicians and dangerous mobsters whom threaten their lives along with the entire sting.
And then there's Jennifer Lawrence. The absolute "It Girl" in Hollywood at the moment, at age 23 it's a well-deserved moniker. She plays Rosenfeld's sultry wife, Rosalyn, giving a dazzling performance that injects life and humor into the film. She's a real scene-stealer here, breezing on and off the screen with the mojo of a Hollywood legend.
Sadly, we don't meet Rosalyn - or at least get to spend all that much time with her - in the film's first half. Corny and meandering, the first hour was so hammy that I thought it was headed into Razzy-worthiness, with over-the-top dialogue being matched with even cheesier hair-dos and wardrobes. It was like the A-list of Tinsel Town decided to play dress-up.
But then Rosalyn walks into a bar and everything changes. The film's second half ratchets itself up into a tightly wound thrill-ride that is equal parts funny and exhilarating. Everything comes together in such a clever way that it makes up for the film's first half and more so. Emerging along the way are brilliant performances from Christian Bale and Amy Adams, both just as deserving as Lawrence come awards season.
Russell definitely nails the look and feel of the sleezy 70s. But American Hustle falls short of greatness when it comes to flow, feel and the picture as a whole. Sure it contains some of the most memorable characters and performances of the year, but those who aren't distracted by the film's sparkly pizzazz won't be able to help but notice its first-half flaws.
Genre: Crime, Drama
Run Time: 2 hours, 9 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Louis C.K., Jack Huston, Michael Pena, Shea Whigham
Co-written & Directed by David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter, I Heart Huckabees, Three Kings, Spanking the Monkey)
Opens locally on Friday, Dec 20, 2013 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time