If you have been reading this blog for some time, you know how I felt about Silver Linings Playbook. If you haven’t, let me share with you how I felt about Silver Linings Playbook: I hated it. I felt it was exceptionally pretentious – just my opinion. I felt like Jennifer Lawrence did a great job, well, I felt that all the actors did a good job, but the movie just made no sense to me. That’s just me, a lot of these quality, classy, awardsy movies make no sense to me! I need more ‘splosions! Having that in mind, I was completely unable to watch American Hustle without dragging my bias of David O. Russell into it.
Here’s the good news, American Hustle has some interesting stuff going on, and in my opinion, is better than Silver Linings Playbook. Russell’s skill is demonstrated in giving a lot of dialogue to gifted actors, and letting them help to create memorable characters. In this particular movie, he has some truly outlandish characters in some over-the-top situations.
Irving Rosenfeld is a small time con-man operating in New Jersey in the 70s. He has a wife he cares nothing for and a son he loves deeply, so he won’t leave the wife, despite her crazy (and I mean crazy). He meets Sydney, a young woman looking to find herself, or perhaps to recreate herself. They fall madly in love and she works with him on his cons. Eventually, one of their fake loan cons is discovered by Richie DiMaso, an agent with the government. Instead of busting the two of them, he recruits them to help him bust ‘bigger fish’: dirty politicians. This leads to an insane con in which they attempt to bust a local Mayor who is trying to revitalize Atlantic City. This process involves run-ins with the mob, a fake sheik, a non-existent $10 million, and DiMaso’s beleaguered boss, and lots and lots of 70s clothes and hair.
The plot is crazy enough, but letting these exceptionally talented actors play around inside this crazy plot is what makes the movie special.
- Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, and really, his entire character is established by the voice-over in the first 10 minutes of the movie as he expertly crafts his comb-over. And what a comb-over it is. Bale doesn’t really disappear into this character the way you expect, but he is still incredibly believable as this criminal with a heart of gold just trying to keep his family and loved ones happy. Is the belly real, is is not? Who knows - it's convincing either way.
- Bradley Cooper plays Richie DiMaso, and plays most of the movie angry, or perhaps angrily hungry for more; more credit, more glory, more love, more of everything. Cooper is bizarrely coifed in a tight perm, and that perm should probably get a supporting actor nod – because Bale’s comb-over gets the best actor nod. Cooper continues to excel in Russell’s work, while he showed talent in Silver Linings, he shows teeth here. DiMaso is aggressive and unrelenting, and I couldn’t help but hope he will get what is coming to him.
- Amy Adams plays Sydney Prosser. She is very good in this, and it occurs to me that Adams continues to improve in everything she does. She’s much better here than she was in that one episode of Charmed where she had bad luck, or that one episode of Buffy, or that one episode of Smallville where she ate people – seriously. Over the past few years she has become a really good actress, and in this, she gets to play a wide range of emotions and characters. She also gets to do a lot of non-verbal conveying, mainly in her eyes. She has huge eyes and uses them well to her advantage in this movie. She does a great job of making sure you never really know what side she’s on, and that’s the point.
- Jennifer Lawrence plays the crazed wife of Irving, Rosalyn. And when I say crazed, I mean crazed. She gets to completely cut loose and play a total nutjob, and she does a really great job. She’s probably the most watchable of the cast, but only because you cannot wait to see what she will do next. I particularly like the scene when she is given a brand-new, just invented Microwave Oven, and told NOT to put any metal in it. She promptly puts metal in it – and blames the ‘science oven’.
- Jeremy Renner plays Mayor Carmine Polito, who really just wants to do right by his constituents. His large pompadour might not get a nod, but it is close. He has less to do than the other characters, but he does it well. Essentially he’s just trying to do the right thing, and gets caught up in this crazy plot. You really root for his character because he is so fun. Elisabeth Rohm plays the mayor’s wife Dolly, who immediately bonds with Rosalyn. She gets to vamp it up as a stereotypical jersey-type wife, and does a great job.
- Louis C.K. inexplicably shows up as Stoddard Thorsen, DiMaso’s boss. He doesn’t stretch beyond what you’ve seen him do before, but his low-key exasperation fits perfectly next to Cooper’s out-of-control crazy. He also tells a multi-part story about ice-fishing with his family that DiMaso attempts to use as motivation at differing points, and that was a funny running gag.
- Shea Whigham, who has been good in many things, but who I always remember from the Fast and Furious movies (he was Bryan O’Conner’s snippy co-worker in 4 and 6) has a small part in this, in one of the craziest wigs I have ever seen.
- Michael Pena plays the fake sheik brought in by the government to play a part in the con. His tight performance is really funny.
- Jack Huston plays a small time mobster who starts to fall for Rosalyn. He plays a key role in delivering information that slips from Rosalyn to his cronies, but was that all part of the plan?
Really, I would not call this movie a comedy, even though it is being marketed that way, and it just won best Comedy/Musical in the Golden Globes. It’s an awards-season comedy, which is not really a comedy. There are funny moments, but really – it’s more of a showcase for some interesting character acting. In terms of entertainment, it does start slow, but it does keep you interested as the story progresses, and you being to wonder who is being conned, and who will come out on top. This is another one that I’m glad I saw, but I am not really sure I would say that I enjoyed. It’s a very actor-y movie designed to show the quality of the players – it might even work as a play - take that under advisement, high-school drama groups!
6 out of 10 – again that number reflects my opinion, not the quality of the work! Gained points for the hair and costumes, surely it will be up for the hair/makeup and costuming Oscars. Lost points for the length, it really could have done just fine at 90 minutes. It’s well over 2 hours, and a tighter running time would have helped to eliminate some of the slower parts. Gained points for the complicated sting-type operation – lost points for the dance scene, did they do the Hustle? If they did, then it gains points there.
Bonus Video 1: The Sting – similar, older, better.
Bonus Video 2: Confidence – far and away my favorite con-man movie.
Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews