American Hustle (2013)

American Hustle

Directed by David O. Russell, U.S., 2013

It is a rare actor who can make or break a movie while only appearing on screen for ten or twenty minutes.  Jennifer Lawrence is such an actor.  In a perfect world, her commanding performance of the dangerously stupid, kitchen destroying, neglectful wife and mother Rosalyn would win her a second consecutive Oscar.  We’ll see what happens.

That’s not to say that the rest of the cast isn’t phenomenal.  Like last year’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” Russell brings together a great cast and gets fantastic performances out of all of them.  Christian Bale gained considerable weight for the lead role of Irving Rosenfeld, which in itself isn’t much of an accomplishment, but the physical transformation helps Bale completely disappear into the role.  There will be no confusing Mr. Rosenfeld with Bruce Wayne or Jack Kelly.  Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., and Boardwalk Empire’s Jack Huston and Shea Whigham round out the rest of the cast.

At this point, we expect fantastic performances in a David O. Russell film.  What sets American Hustle apart from his previous, character heavy efforts is the storytelling.  Russell’s shot selection, pacing, and  sleight of hand (it is a movie about con artists after all) bring into focus what could easily have been a confusing and bizarre story in the hands of a lesser director.  Even when Russell hoodwinks the audience along the way, he does so because he makes the deception believable and simple.

That isn’t to say American Hustle is a perfect film.  It takes some time to get going before anything actually happens, and Amy Adams doesn’t do a very good English accent at times (although it’s good enough for the most part).

If it weren’t for Steve McQueen’s “Twelve Years a Slave,” Russell would be a shoe-in for best director.  He still might win, even if American Hustle doesn’t win best picture.  With The Fighter (2010), Silver Linings Playbook (2012), and American Hustle, he’s on quite a roll, and next year he has a movie about the Kennedy assassination in the works.

You might like American Hustle if: You enjoy Silver Linings Playbook, heist movies, dark comedies, or anything with Jennifer Lawrence in it.

You might not like American Hustle if: The idea of a chubby, balding Christian Bale gives you the creeps.

(c) 2013 D.G. McCabe