American Hustle: When Sassy Meets Gritty

American Hustle follows the story of con artists Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), who run a loan business called London Associates where Prosser pretends to be a British banking advisor named Lady Edith Greensly. When they’re busted by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), Rosenfeld and Prosser are forced to help the FBI. Their new target? Mayor Carmine Polito of New Jersey, who’s taking dirty money to start casinos that will revive Atlantic City’s economy.

But the con gets more complicated with every turn. Rosenfeld starts to like Polito, realizing that what he’s doing is actually good for New Jersey; Prosser begins seeing DiMaso, who believes she’s actually British; Rosenfeld’s sassy and manipulative wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) blabs about the whole operation; and mobster Victor Tellegio (Robert DeNiro) gets involved. The only way for Rosenfeld and Prosser to escape is to hustle.

What’s American Hustle like? I’d say Scorsese crime drama meets Ocean’s Eleven set in the 1970s. It’s weird because the 2014 Golden Globe nominations came out and listed American Hustle in the “Musical or Comedy” nominations. Um…what? Were we watching the same movie, Hollywood Foreign Press Association? Because I’m not seeing the comedy here (unless we’re talking about how no one takes the Golden Globes seriously). Sure, American Hustle is funny at times, but a few laughs doesn’t warrant a genre change. It’s a drama that centers around the idea that everyone is hustling for something in life, whether that’s love, money, power, survival, or revenge. And the message of it all? The con is the only truth (Trippy, I know, but it is the ’70s).

Like David O. Russell’s The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle‘s strength lies in its characters and its screenplay. Russell and screenwriter Eric Warren Singer created characters who were terrible people doing terrible things to other terrible people, yet they also had sympathetic motives for everything they did. A good example? Irving Rosenfeld swindled people out of their money not because he liked conning people, but because his father could never provide for his family, and Rosenfeld wanted to be able to provide for his son (who was really Rosalyn’s son with another man, but he adopted him as his own). See what I mean? You can be disgusted by Rosenfeld’s lifestyle, but at the same time, you applaud him for raising someone else’s son. That’s how you know you have a complex character. And all of the other characters are like that, too.

And then there’s the screenplay, which is filled with sassy dialogue that also works as character development. For example, when Rosenfeld monologues about Rosalyn, we get the best line of the entire movie: “She was the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate.” That’s an amazing line because it’s funny, and it tells us everything we need to know about Rosalyn (Hint: She’s manipulative and kind of loose cannon). To be honest, the only downfall of the screenplay (and the entire movie) is that it’s slow. I know it’s because they have a lot of tension to set up with the characters and the climatic con, but we shouldn’t notice that it feels long while we’re watching.

Sidenote: Whoever did the hair for this movie deserves all the awards. Bradley Cooper’s perm, Christian Bale’s combover, Amy Adams’ voluminous curls, Jennifer Lawrence’s birdnest, and Jeremy Renner’s car salesman poof were freaking awesome. Also, I would very much like to bring back ’70s fashion after this movie.

Onto the actors! Christian Bale and Amy Adams are obviously the leads here. We all know Adams is good because she gets nominated for an Oscar almost every year now, but I always forget how great Bale is until I see him in movies like this. Poor Bradley Cooper has yet another douchebag role, which annoys me because we saw more diversity in his performance when he was the good guy with issues in Silver Linings Playbook. Jeremy Renner is honestly forgettable, not because he’s a bad actor, but because he’s the only actor in this movie with a character who isn’t a bad person (which means he’s less interesting). Louis C.K. and Robert DeNiro have small cameos, and unsurprisingly, C.K. is funny while DeNiro is a scary mobster.

But the person we should all be talking about the most with this movie is Jennifer Lawrence, who is a goddamn scene-stealer throughout the entire movie. Rosalyn is loud, abrasive, and kind of a dumbass (For god’s sake, she puts foil in a microwave and breaks it, and she spills the secrets of the con to one of Tellegio’s mob lackeys). Yet you can’t take your eyes off of her whenever she shows up. And good thing, too, because we’ll get more Jennifer this awards season, which means more funny interviews and tripping on gowns!

Overall, American Hustle is yet another good David O. Russell film. If you liked The Fighter or Silver Linings Playbook, you will definitely like this movie. Although it does move at a slow pace, the witty screenplay and fantastic characters make up for it. Christian Bale and Amy Adams’ con artists are really just the worst kind of people, but they’re sympathetic, funny, and quite wonderful to watch as they fix the things they screw up. But even better to watch is Jennifer Lawrence, who gives an absolutely crazy, scene-stealing performance as Christian Bale’s wife. Let’s just say that this movie is definitely worthy of all of its award nominations.

American Hustle: A-

For my radio review of American Hustle on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 21:37 mark).

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