Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

Review: David O. Russell's 'American Hustle' Is Snazzy And Fun -- With a Purpose

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire December 4, 2013 at 12:00PM

Story comes second to Russell over the rhythms of well-timed bickering, which is a blessing and a curse in "American Hustle"
16
American Hustle

"Some of this actually happened," reads the opening credit of David O. Russell's "American Hustle," although it could equally apply to any of the filmmaker's previous works. Russell's freewheeling approach to portraying downtrodden Americans fighting to achieve small personal victories pervades his movies so comprehensively that they may as well exist in his own invented universe. Yet they also maintain a heightened realism through Russell's caustic, loose screenplays, which rely on high energy performances that allows the humanity of his characters to hover over the material and transcend its fixed ingredients. They aren't just the stars of the show -- they steal it, which makes this tale of con artists in the late seventies into ideal turf for Russell to run wild.

Needless to say, story comes second to Russell over the rhythms of well-timed bickering, which is a blessing and a curse in "American Hustle": A confident, polished work, it's also a tangled caper about criminals and the FBI enmeshed in a convoluted scheme that's beside the point -- and yet, with its 137 minute running time, there's so much of plotting that sometimes the movie seems as though it's engaged in the same identity crisis assailing its leads. But the Frankenstein narrative holds a unique allure.

Before anyone in "American Hustle" starts talking, Russell gives us a single cogent image: Conman Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) glaring at himself in a hotel mirror, packing a significant paunch, his hair jutting upward from a bald scalp as he prepares to apply an unruly combover. The actor's barely recognizable, and becomes increasingly buried in the performance as he awkwardly wrestles with his hairpiece, establishing the slapstick tone and the story's main theme with a single comic bit.

American Hustle

Set in New Jersey in 1978, "American Hustle" is all about people wearing costumes, literally and otherwise, to hide their agendas. Building on a screenplay originally written by Eric Singer, Russell uses as a foundation the famous FBI Congressional corruption probe Abscam, in which federal agents worked with con artist Mel Weinberg to ensnare politicians accepting bribes. The plan was too ambitious for its own good, partly because it stemmed from the daring objective of a reckless federal agent mainly intent on landing his own victories. In "American Hustle," that role falls to a wide-eyed Bradley Cooper as agent Richie DiMaso, who forces Rosenfeld and his partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) to help the FBI with his ambush plans after he busts the couple for running a phony investment firm.

But "American Hustle" starts after these pieces have already been put in motion: The couple have begrudgingly started working for DiMaso to capture the local mayor (Jeremy Renner) accepting a bribe. When it flashes back to explain how they got there, Russell hesitates, focusing instead on the courtship between Rosenfeld and Prosser, a passionate young woman with a vague origin story drawn to Rosenfeld's confidence (if not his body type). It's only once their get-rich-quick plot takes off that DiMaso enters the picture and ensnares them in an even riskier gamble.

By then, it's practically irrelevant. While peppered with multiple voiceovers to display various perspectives on the situation, nobody comments much on the actual plan of offering false bribes to politicians for casino licenses. When Prosser describes Rosenfeld's allure, she says that he's "so careful and precise about every stylistic detail," an observation that could apply to their eventual scams -- but doesn't. "American Hustle" is predominantly concerned with the personalities of its ensemble ahead of their specific actions.

This article is related to: Reviews, American Hustle, Period Drama, Comedy-Drama, David O. Russell, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Sony Pictures, Awards, Awards Season Roundup, Michael Peña






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More