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Movie review: 'American Hustle' is David O. Russell at his peak

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American Hustle


Director David O. Russell seems to be at the height of his career right now, his last couple films, “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook” having received awards and critical acclaim. His latest film, the crime comedy-drama “American Hustle”, is on its way to achieving the same amount of success, boasting a phenomenal cast and a complex but smart script.

American Hustle” is set in late 1970s New Jersey. Con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his partner and the love of his life Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) run a successful business cheating people out of loans. When they are caught by the wild FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), he forces them to use their skills to help him catch some possibly crooked congressman, their main target being the community-oriented Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). But things get even more complicated when Sydney and Irving try to con Richie in the process, while Irving’s volatile wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) threatens the whole scheme when she attempts to get involved.

The opening title states that “Some of this actually happened.” While this story is based on true events, Russell goes for the comedic side of it, and does so successfully. Irving, with his comb-over and potbelly, Richie with his curls and violent temper tantrums when he doesn’t get want he wants, and Rosalyn, who is almost just plain psychotic in her loneliness and frustration, are often caricature-like, but there is so much more to them than that. The dramatic parts of the film are indeed tense, particularly involving the love triangle between Sydney, Irving, and Richie. The plot is convoluted, but not in a way that is completely incomprehensible; rather, it is one of those films you want to go back and watch again to look for those details you likely missed.

The cast is absolutely stunning, each actor embracing their character and taking it all the way. Lawrence and Cooper may be a bit over-the-top at times, but Bale and Adams are superb, Bale in particular transforming into his role and proving once again what a talented actor he is. Russell directs the story with great skill, each shot set up beautifully from the dream-like flashbacks of how Irving and Sydney got together to the tense conversations between the mafia and politicians.

The tension builds as the film progresses, and just when you may think you have everything figured out, someone cons someone else to the point where you never know who really has the upper hand. Despite its fascinating plot and characters, perhaps the film’s one main flaw was that it was difficult to feel a connection with any of them. Unsure of whose side to take, it’s easy to passively watch the film without being overly invested in it. Having said that, “American Hustle” is truly a winner, and I look forward to seeing what Russell and this great group of actors, all of whom have worked with Russell on at least one of his last couple films and will hopefully work together again, have in store for the future.

Runtime: 138 minutes. Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence.

Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:

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