Saturday, December 28, 2013

American Hustle

I went to see American Hustle primarily because Jennifer Lawrence is in it. She doesn't even have that much screen time, but I've enjoyed her acting and irreverent interview style so much that it was enough to get me into the theater. So, I had very little in the way of expectations for this film. What I got was an entertaining and sometimes bewildering story of con artists, the FBI, and politicians in the late 70s when casinos were legalized in Atlantic City.

The movie opens with the line: "Some of this actually happened." This refers to the FBI's Abscam operation, which ran from the late 70s to the early 80s and did indeed cover some of the same ground as the movie. Many characters in the movie are based on real people, and some of the events depicted did take place. According to what I've read, though, the movie version has rather a lot more sex and drugs than the real operation did. I'm okay with that, though - the way the disclaimer is worded makes it clear that the filmmakers were not going for a faithful retelling of history.

Notably, I did not know going in that American Hustle was made by David O. Russell. While I thought his The Fighter was a good movie, I ranked it 5th of the 9 Best Picture nominees that I saw in 2010. I rather disliked his Silver Linings Playbook despite a good performance by Jennifer Lawrence (for which she won an Oscar). He makes movies which feature good actors giving great performances while playing characters who are terrible human beings, but who we are apparently supposed to like despite their lack of redeeming qualities.

Despite that, American Hustle is quite entertaining. The caper plot is suitable twisty (and twisted). The relationship plots are appropriately sordid. Mostly, though, the acting is fantastic. From the long opening shot of Christian Bale as con artist Irving Rosenfeld adjusting his hairpiece and comb-over, it is obvious that the movie is about performance. When the camera is not awkwardly zooming or panning, it tends to stay on a given character for extended monologues or physical acting, and this is where the movie is best.

The other male lead is Bradley Cooper as FBI agent Richard DiMaso. His acting is not in the same league as Bale, but he's good enough, and at least his character isn't as repugnant as the one he played in Silver Linings Playbook. The female lead is Amy Adams, who is fantastic as Rosenfeld's sidekick and lover Sydney Prosser. Jennifer Lawrence gets far less screen time as Rosenfeld's wife Rosalyn, but she dominates the scene whenever present.

This movie features depravity, drugs, infidelity, and generally terrible people doing awful things to each other. It is R for good reasons. I liked it, and while I'm hardly a fan of Russell, I at least appreciate his ability to draw truly fine performances out of his actors.

1. Gravity
2. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
3. Much Ado About Nothing
4. Frozen
5. Now You See Me
6. The World's End
7. Ender's Game
8. Despicable Me 2
9. Star Trek: Into Darkness
10. Thor: The Dark World
11. Oblivion
12. Pacific Rim
13. Rush
14. Iron Man 3
15. Kick Ass 2
16. American Hustle
17. Man of Steel
18. Jack the Giant Slayer
19. Beautiful Creatures
20. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
21. The Family
22. RIPD
23. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
24. Oz the Great and Powerful
25. Epic
26. G.I. Joe: Retaliation
27. The Wolverine
28. Elysium
29. Monsters University
30. Hansel and Gretel, Witch Hunters
31. The Grandmaster
32. Machete Kills
33. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
34. Carrie
35. The Great Gatsby
36. The Lone Ranger
37. This is the End

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