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Weekend Pick: American Hustle

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American Hustle

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American Hustle is a whirlwind of a yarn built roughly on the real-life Abscam scandal involving the takedown of key East Coast politicians, but it’s the caliber of acting that catapults the convoluted storyline to another level.

Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner and Bradley Cooper (in that order) bring their best tricks forward under the direction of David O. Russell, who is getting better with each new film foray.

Set in the late 1970s, Bale pulls another DeNiro and transforms into Irving Rosenfeld, a successful con man skilled enough to make a decent living and woo the likes of a hot kindred spirit, Sydney Prosser (Adams). The fact that he has a wife, Rosalyn, (likely repeat Oscar contender Lawrence at her best yet) and kid at home is beside the point; these two get a great thing going.

That great thing lures Cooper into the scene as FBI agent Richie DiMaso. Once Irving and Sydney (who inexplicably also poses as a London native named Edith and STILL makes it work) are pinched for their cons, Richie forces them into a larger undercover operation in exchange for reduced sentences. Part of that involves bringing down politicians, mafia and beloved New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito (Renner).

And that’s where things get complicated. You can tell Russell spent a lot of time with the works of 1970s Scorsese, which makes cameos from the likes of Robert DeNiro himself work, but American Hustle is just enough of a diversion from, say, Goodfellas (and one might also think Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights) to stand on its own merit. That and the first-rate cast selling every scene.

Adams and Lawrence are simply gorgeous depictions of the era while Cooper’s coifed curls are spot on for his character and who he is. But of course Bale is the guy who literally puts the weight behind Irving, morphing into a charismatic schlep with a comb-over that makes Donald Trump look normal. Yet, it’s still Bale, who holds on to his endearing self and convinces you that Adams would actually go for him.

The Golden Globes are recognizing American Hustle as a comedy, but that sells the film short. Is it funny? Absolutely. But it’s also one of the more entertaining and interesting films of the year with stellar stars.

American Hustle is now playing throughout the Bay Area.

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