Things sure were a lot different in the late 1970s. There were many interesting hairstyles, a lot of polyester outfits and some very unique characters. One new movie at the box office takes us back to see all of the above, especially the latter.
American Hustle is about the ABSCAM scandal that took place in the years immediately before and after 1980. The FBI sting operation looked into corruption and bribery of government officials for political favours. The movie is a fictionalization of that whole affair, but more importantly, it’s a movie about the characters.
This whole movie exists to have some good (and some very good) actors play some very unique and compelling characters. American Hustle is full of such wonderful portrayals of such unpleasant people. You might find yourself wondering who to root for because none of them have particularly inviting personalities. I wouldn’t want any of them as a friend.
Irving (Christian Bale) is a con man and a loan shark when he meets Sydney (Amy Adams), a former stripper. They soon get romantically involved with each other and she steps into his shady business dealings, this despite the fact that he is still married to Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who is not very personable.
Irving and Sydney first get into trouble with the FBI as an agent named Richie (Bradley Cooper) catches them in one of their cons. He makes them a deal to target and arrest other con artists. This leads them all to some pretty big players. Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) is a New Jersey mayor just trying to smooth the way for casinos to open up for business. If he happens to pocket a bunch of cash to make it happen, then so be it. That’s just business.
This leads to other politicians getting involved, and because of the nature and history of gambling, mobsters must play their part as well. This little sting escalates quickly into a major operation.
But, like I said, this is not a movie about plot. You could follow the story along if you chose but then that might distract you from the wonderful characters being acted out on screen. Bale’s Irving opens the movie with an extended sequence showing us his overweight belly and elaborate comb-over technique. Right from the very first minute, we get to see the many pains the character must take to put on his own act. Everyone here is a faker in some way and confidence is how most of them pull off their fakes. That’s what “con” refers to, after all.
Sydney herself puts on an act throughout the movie, pretending to be a British aristocrat named Lady Edith Greensly in order to convince others that she and Irving are major players. Richie too, for he has to be a lead actor in the sting. Everyone is a hustler whether they admit it to themselves or not.
And that’s probably where American Hustle achieves its true brilliance. It’s about actors playing actors, and how some are better than others. We the audience get to see some great performers like Bale and Adams, each with their own acting style. Bale prefers his method acting, stepping into the persona of Irving so that he probably shaved his head bald and put that belly weight on the old-fashioned way.
Adams is just a great actress with her own method. She can step into so many different roles by studying her characters, knowing her lines and rehearsing the hell out of it. She doesn’t have to be Sydney; she simply acts. Renner, Lawrence and Cooper all step up to the challenge as well, making this movie a colossal ensemble effort. They are all cast well. They all act well. The movie is made by the group effort.
Without knowing the history of ABSCAM, the viewer wouldn’t know how it was going to end. We’re only left to watch the performances to see who has the intelligence and yes, the confidence, to come out on top. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Oscar show appreciation to some of these performers, notably Lawrence, Adams and Bale, all of whom have worked with director Russell before. Notably, their past performances received such critical accolades too.
Cooper has too but needs a few more high calibre performances like this in order to get his due. Adams, however, has been an Academy Awards bridesmaid four times now. The fifth time out should be the charm.
Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Robert de Niro
Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: Eric Singer and David O. Russell
Rated: 14A for coarse language
Runtime: 138 minutes
Now playing at: Cineplex Odeon North Edmonton and Scotiabank Theatre