David o Russell has always been an interesting film maker, but his career was pretty rocky for a while there. Early movies like Flirting With Disaster found appreciation over the years, but are still mostly unseen by the masses. Then there were leaked videos of onset screaming matches with his cast, and a lost movie that was shut down multiple times before disappearing all together. But a few years ago, something happened and David O Russell became a bankable, Oscar nomination regular. First the Fighter, then Silver Linings Playbook, and now a movie that seems like it’s sure a thing for a few categories, including Best Picture and Best Director, American Hustle.
Christian Bale is Irving Rosenfeld, a small time con man who falls in love with his new accomplice, Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser. Unfortunately, he’s already in a loveless marriage with Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). Even more unfortunately, Irving and Sydney get caught in an FBI sting by Bradley Cooper’s Richie DiMaso, that leads to working for the feds, trying to take down bigger targets, including Jeremy Renner as small town New Jersey Mayor, Carmine Polito.
Once the many balls are in the air, the multiple plates are spinning and various wheels are in motion (trust me, the complex, but never convoluted, story really does deserve that many metaphors), American Hustle plays out as an amazingly effective combination of drama, action, suspense, mad capped caper and broad comedy. And Russell really deserves all the credit for making these conflicting tones work with each other, instead of collapsing into a big mess.
A lot of American Hustle is about lies people tell to others. But even more of it is about lies people tell themselves just so they can survive. Irving knows his comb over isn’t fooling anybody, but he tells himself it makes a difference because running a confidence scam is all about having confidence. Richie knows he’s a substandard agent living a substandard life, but he tells himself he’s smarter than everyone else around him, hoping that one day he might actually believe it.
While Carmine might not be lying about doing everything for the good of his New Jersey constituents, you can see him tyring to justify his actions to himself as much as to anyone else. And as Irving’s bored and otherwise clueless housewife, Rosalyn is the only one completely self-aware of all their lies, internal and external, even getting a nice little rant about how we all tell ourselves whatever we need to just get through the day.
I’ve read a few comparisons between this movie and Goodfellas. And while American Hustle never attempts the real darkness of Scorsese’s masterpiece, I understand the link. The most obvious being the multiple character voiceover and meticulous period setting. But it’s more than that. A lot of the camera work, music choices and editing also make me think Russell has seen Goodfellas more than a few times. I don’t want that sound like I’m saying he ripped off Scorsese. I think it’s more of a respectful homage.
Bale, Adams, Cooper and Lawrence were all nominated for Oscars the last time they were in David O Russell films, and even though I think Bale, Cooper and Lawrence should all get another shot with American Hustle, I’m not sure if they will. The Academy really has a stick up its ass when it comes to great comedic performances. And even though they all get deep, dramatic moments too, they made me laugh way too many times for the prestige-addicted Oscar voters to give them a chance.
Directed By – David O. Russell
Written By – Eric Singer, David O. Russell