American Hustle

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Director: David O. Russell.
Screenplay: David O. Russell, Eric Singer.
Starring: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Robert DeNiro, Shea Whigham, Michael Peña, Louis C.K., Jack Huston, Alessandro Nivola, Saïd Taghmaoui, Elizabeth Röhm, Paul Herman, Barry Primus, Anthony Zerbe.

She was the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate“.

Following on from the Oscar winning success of “The Fighter” and “Silver Lining’s Playbook“, director David O. Russell is seemingly intent on sticking with a winning formula. His choice of actors in “American Hustle” have all delivered wonderful work for him in the past, so it makes sense to go with the ensemble that he has. Bale and Adams return from the former and Cooper, Lawrence and DeNiro return from the latter. One thing’s for certain, it was a very wise decision as every one of them deliver excellent work again.

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Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) runs a meagre dry-cleaning business but also isn’t adverse to the odd scam to boost his bank account. With partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), Irving is soon caught by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). They end up cutting a deal whereby Irving will receive clemency if he catches other high-profile offenders – mainly New Jersey politician Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) – in the act. Irving agrees to the sting but his loose-cannon wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) threatens to undo the whole deal.

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Originally titled “American Bullshit” and loosely based on the FBI ABSCAM sting-operation of the late 70’s and early 80’s, this was one of those black listed Hollywood scripts that lay dormant for years. I really can’t fathom why, though, as the material is strong stuff and ripe for any self-indulgent audience’s enjoyment. The most striking aspect to it, is it’s abundance of style. It has a great feel for the time and place that lends a reminder of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” but the biggest influence of David O. Russell’s approach here is, undoubtedly, the style of Martin Scorsese and his crime movies “Casino“, or in particular, “Goodfellas“. There are flash cuts, zoom effects and numerous voiceover’s that are quite obviously an unashamed nod to the great auteur’s work. Yes, it’s been done before but O. Russell is clever enough to know that it will work again. And it does. The one thing that he doesn’t manage to achieve, though, is an effective pace. His direction is skilfully handled but also strangely misleading. The film looks like it’s moving fast but the pace is slightly off, leaving you feeling adrift during some periodic lulls. Although this was a shortcoming that I couldn’t overlook, it’s really the only one the film has.

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Everything else culminates into one of the most enjoyable films of the year. What it lacks in drive it makes up for in style and an excellent, on-form ensemble. Christian Bale goes through another impressive transformation by putting on 40lbs and sporting a hilarious combover (of which, we are treated to the meticulous time and effort that he puts into getting it right). He’s a towering presence and one that should, at the very least, see him get another Oscar nomination. The two female leads are also exceptional; I’ve always been a big fan of Amy Adams and her role here only further confirms why she’s one the best around at present while Jennifer Lawrence can do no wrong these days. In the hands of lesser actresses these roles could have blended into the background but they both add a three dimensional edge that I suspect wasn’t there on paper. Bradley Cooper also holds his own amongst these heavyweights and utilises his comedic chops to good effect. It also doesn’t hinder his chances when even he’s cutting around in a perm that’s tighter than the script. Added to this, we are treated to a brief cameo by a bald Robert DeNiro who, despite very limited screen time, still manages the requisite criminal menace as we’ve become accustomed to and adds yet another nod to Scorsese. Apparently there was a lot of ad-lib between the actors which only reinforces how good their respective performances are and with them spearheading this elaborate show, you’re taken along for the ride. Who’s conning who? is the major question that lies at the heart of this film and like the hairstyles, you never quite know what to believe. Where you can take comfort, is in knowing that curlers and hairspray are only products of masquerading as something else. The characters certainly are, and the film is too, but the fun is in finding out what’s underneath.

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A vibrant and colourful tapestry of genres buoyed by rich and off-beat characters. It may have pacing issues but this is still a film that’s hard to criticise as it has so much in its favour.

Is that hair products I can smell, or the distinct aroma of Oscar success?

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Mark Walker

Trivia: In the early 1980s French director Louis Malle adapted the Abscam story into a film script entitled “Moon Over Miami”, with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi set to star, with Belushi playing a conman & Aykroyd playing an FBI agent, but Belushi’s death in March 1982 scuttled plans for the film.

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72 Responses to “American Hustle”

  1. As I keep telling people, this is my new favorite David O Russell film. Fine look at this, Mark.

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  2. For our big feature we are planning, we should sport some short and tight perms : )

    Good work and

    Boat Drinks!

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  3. Top review mate and glad you liked this one. I thought the performances were just outstanding, particularly Bale and Adams. However, I did think that the story itself was a little weak and a little uninteresting. It was definitely the characters I cared about more than the hustle aspect to the story.

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    • Cheers Chris. See, I was more caught by the pace. I found the story quite interesting and the characters and actors were superb but it fell into a few lulls on occasion that forced me to keep with it rather it gripping me all the way. Still, I thought this a very small gripe as I had plenty of fun with it. Totally agree on Bale and Adams. They were my favourites too.

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  4. Great review, glad to hear you enjoyed it. The cast really had a blast didn’t they.

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  5. It might be O. Russell’s best, but it still has some story issues. The end felt anti-climactic, to me anyway. Still, I completely agree with the rating, it’s a stellar flick! Awesome post, bud :).

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    • Cheers Joseph. It does has flaws but minor overall. It’s still a great piece if entertainment and I really found it hard not to rate it as I did. I originally consider a 4/5 but I haven’t had this much fun all year.

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  6. I had a lot of fun w/ this one too Mark! Bale is excellent as always and he’s the heart of the film. I really like that his character wasn’t morose and despite his many flaws, he’s actually a very affable guy. I hope he gets an Oscar nomination indeed!

    As for Lawrence, whilst I thought she was brilliant and I’m a fan of hers in general, I was really pulling for Lupita Nyong’O to win the Golden Globes.

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    • I really can’t see past Bale getting an Oscar nom for this, Ruth. It’s a tough year for him to win it but I also wouldn’t be that fussed if he did. He was marvellous in it. As was everyone else. Probably the most fun I’ve had from a film in a while – despite its flaws.

      As for Lawrence, I do think she was brilliant but not quite enough to win the Golden Globe over Nyong’o. Who knows how the oscars will play it now.

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      • Yeah I think you’re right Mark, Bale just might get overlooked for his work here which is a shame as he was brilliant. It’s nuts how he could go from Batman last year to someone like Irving, and convincing at both!

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      • Absolutely Ruth. Bale now seems to be the go-to guy for chameleon like transformations. His ability to change is very impressive indeed.

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  7. I’m not David O. Russell’s biggest fan but I’ll say this – He can sure put together an amazing cast. This one also seems to have some momentum going into the Oscars.

    Great review my friend.

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    • Cheers man! Yeah, O. Russell can certainly get a cast working to some of their best standards. Everyone was fantastic here and surely one or two of them will pick up an Oscar.

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  8. Nice review here, Mark. Definitely a film filled with great sense of style and great acting. I enjoyed this one quite a bit as well. 🙂

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  9. A great review as usual Mark. Love the cast, especially Bale. This film just sounds like pure fun.

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  10. See. I told you that you’d like that De Niro cameo. 😉

    And great review. Definitely an extremely entertaining movie.

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  11. Popcorn Nights Says:

    Very nice review Mark, I think we agree on a lot of things. I haven’t enjoyed a film as much as this in ages. Good start to the year!

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  12. The thing that stands out in my mind the most is the cast. Crazy enough, it isn’t the stunning and gorgeous Jennifer Lawrence, or cunning, fat man version of Christian Bale that leaves an lasting image in my head. It is the sinister, yet short appearance of DeNiro, who otherwise has been appearing in garbage films for the majority of the 2000’s. A spin-off on his character would be something I would support.

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    • Sounds like a great idea, man. I’d be all for a spin-off of DeNiro’s character. He leaves you intrigued about him and wanting to know more. How does an actor actually get you to feel threatened with literally minutes of screen time?. It just shows that DeNiro can still provide the goods.

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  13. Nice review. I think the movie doesn’t have a strong enough narrative for its two hour runtime, but I really enjoyed watching American Hustle.

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    • Cheers man! I quite invested myself in the narrative and went with it but it was the periodic lulls that broke my concentration. Although, you could say, that that was a failing narrative that caused that. It’s a fair point. Great fun all the same, though.

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  14. Everybody in this cast is a blast to watch, and I seriously could not find a weak-link. Not even in the smaller roles. Nice review Mark.

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  15. Great review, also enjoyed this movie a lot. I loved that De Niro cameo, he was awesome in it. Felt like this movie was shorter than it actually was. Will have up my review tomorrow!

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  16. Nice review. I think you make a great point about the female stars. I think that Adams stole the show. She absolutely smoulders onscreen and I think I might be in love with Jennifer Lawrence.

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    • Yeah, I thought they were both superb, Abbi. They really brought their characters alive. Adams, in particular, really stood out and Lawrence done wonders with her relatively small role.

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  17. Absolutely solid review Mark! I am seriously hoping to check it out this week/weekend. I keep hearing fantastic things about the cast, so hopefully I will know what this is all about too! I am thrilled to see that you enjoyed it so much!

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  18. Been hearing a lot of good things about this, even before the Golden Globes wins. Glad to get a little more insight into the quality of it. Good review, Mark.

    Also, chalk up another reason to be saddened by Belushi’s death… that could have been a pretty cool film.

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    • There were strong contenders at the Golden Globe’s Morgan and I was a little surprised that Lawrence won over Lupita Nyong’o but I can still see why she got it. Both her and Adams were exceptional.

      Yeah, that Belushi/Aykroyd deal could really have been something couldn’t it? I’d have been right up for seeing that. Cheers man!

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  19. Neat review. It sure is entertaining. The costumes were fantastic. I had no idea the script was dormant for a while. The possibilities jump off the page. The pacing didn’t bother me so much as the narration at the beginning, but the acting is exceptional.

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    • Thanks Alex. Yeah, the script was apparently ranked #8 on Hollywood black listed scripts in 2010. Totally agree with you, though, the possibilities do seem endless. Yes, it has a few flaws but they’re so easy to overlook. I really enjoyed it.

      Thanks for dropping in and commenting, man. I appreciate it 🙂

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      • You have a really great site here. I’ve written a few film reviews but sites like yours remind me how much I want to do more. And I will.

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      • You’re too kind, my friend. Too kind! It’s always nice to see someone stop by and roam about, so thanks for that. I notice you have a review if American Hustle yourself? I’ll stop by a little later and have look. You should do more, though, it gets very addictive but ultimately it’s a lot of fun and improves your writing no end.

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      • Really respect your opinion. Would be interested in your thoughts on it and the others too if you get the chance. I saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty on Saturday so that’s next up to write it up.

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      • Yeah, I’ll certainly check it out. I saw Walter Mitty myself last night but I doubt I’ll write about it. I used to write about absolutely everything I saw but it soon became overwhelming and I struggled to keep up. Who’s knows, though, if I can get myself together, I might do a short write-up. Concentrating on 12 Years a Slave at the moment.

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      • I’m a big fan of the writer who wrote the character the film is based on so I have to. I really hope more short stories will be adapted as a result of the film.

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  20. Fantastic review, Mark. I am so excited for this one. It opens here on Friday!

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  21. A perfect review Mark. I fully agree with you. I found the film stylistic, its dark tones of humour worked wonderfully. However, it was the cast that truly blew me away. I dont think I have ever seen such an ensemble who have all brought their A-Game to the same film….Unbelievable!! If there was to be one criticism, I would say the cast perhaps outshine the story itself.

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    • Much obliged Allan. I’m with you on the cast. Yes, the film had style and an interestingly, (almost) true story with flashy Scorsese-style direction but it was the entire cast that impressed the most. It’s hard to pick a favourite from them but if I really had to, I’d go with Bale.

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  22. Top read Mark. This film does have a lot of momentum behind it at the moment; it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

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  23. Night Vision Films Says:

    Reblogged this on Night Vision Films and commented:
    Our own hometown girl, Jennifer Lawrence!!

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  24. Nice review! You liked this a bit more than me – I enjoyed the performances but felt the direction was a bit too erratic, lacking any real direction, and the film wasn’t really “about” anything. Not a bad film – it was a lot of fun, if overlong – but I admit I’ll be a tad disappointed if it does well at the Oscars.

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    • Cheers Dave. Yeah, I enjoyed this one quite a bit but I do agree that the direction was erratic in places. I loved the fast pace and riff on Scorsese but it would sometimes grind to halt. I put this down to pacing issues but when all was said and done, I have to say that it really hit the spot for me.

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  25. Excellent reviewing, Mark, as always. Still need to see this one myself. Can’t believe it was originally called “American Bullshit”! Haha!

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  26. O’Russell is such a talented director I’m not surprised to see so many positive things been said about it. Great cast too. I think it’ll miss out on big Oscar success to 12 Years A Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street. I’m still hoping Captain Phillips will get recognized where due.

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    • O.Russell certainly knows how to get the best from a great cast and this was a thoroughly entertaining film, Dan, but I think you’re right. I don’t see it picking up too many Oscars despite its 10 nominations. Cheers man!

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  27. Agree – fabulous performances from the female leads. Plenty of interesting, complex characters as we’ve come to expect from Russell but the plot / con would have benefitted from a tighter pace and heightened tension. Great review.

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