"American Hustle" (2013)- Movie Review

Written and directed by David O. Russell
Co-written by Eric Warren Singer
Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper

‘The Definition of Fun’

In an awards season filled with movies about serious subjects, intense edge-of-the-seat thrillers and dark comedies, “American Hustle” stands out like a bright light-bulb. Yet neither because of the stylish time-period that it aims to capture nor how unrecognizable it’s actors look. On the contrary, it may be the most fun you’ll have at the movies this year.

Do you realize how rare that is? ‘Fun’ isn’t normally a word that we come to associate with award-season movies. If you’ve always followed, the Oscars, as an example, it is usually movies that touch upon solemn and important issues that get everyone’s attention. Not very often does a film outside of that box take home the big prize.

Of course, like any form of entertainment, there are exceptions to the rule though. Two years ago, “Argo”, a pop-corn entertainment film, surprisingly stole the hearts of audiences around the world instead of films that touched upon serious issues like “Zero Dark Thirty”. Yet over the last few years, I’ve taken notice that these surprises only happen on once-in-while-occasions. Like a birthday, or a wedding, they cause for a celebration when they do.

David O. Russell’s “American Hustle”, a witty, inventive and thoroughly entertaining film, might pull of the same trick this year. Questionably, though, does it deserve the awards recognition it’s receiving? Brought to life by outstanding performances, energetic direction and a brilliant screenplay, it surely has the components of a great film but lacks when you look at it as something more than entertainment. However, it isn’t everyday that you come across an award-seasons film that offers a fun movie-going experience, and in the case of “American Hustle” there are many strong reasons why it’s one of the most enjoyable movies you’ll see this year.

Of this day and age, there aren’t many writers that have the flair and talent of creating characters like David O. Russell. A genius at crafting characters whom you can watch for hours upon hours, O. Russell has always had the ability to make you relate to them even they behave strangely. In other words, however bizarre a situation they find themselves in, you still are able to connect with it.

With 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook”, as an example, O. Russell tackled a film that was inspired by his own personal life. One of the issues he touched upon in this film was a crazed obsession with sports, which was displayed by a character who put sports ahead of everything else in his life, even family. I related to this character, because of my own exposure to sports fanatics in life. O. Russell’s greatest strength, with this film, was being able to create characters whom you could easily see existing for real.

In “American Hustle”, a stylized depiction of crime in the 1970’s, it appears at a first glance as if it would be quite hard to create characters grounded in reality, but surprisingly enough O. Russell does. Although they’re involved in rather unlikable activities, the characters in this film are funny, larger-than-life and simply unforgettable. It certainly is not an easy job to craft characters you can care for when they behave strangely, yet with “American Hustle”, O. Russell displays a boldness as a writer that you don’t see every time you go to the movies.

Starring Christian Bale and Amy Adams in the leading roles, “American Hustle” follows a naive yet clever con-artist that teams up with a mysterious woman to commit crimes in the 1970’s. When a wild FBI Agent (Bradley Cooper) catches them red-handed, however, he plunges them deep into a world of dangerous gangsters, unpredictable criminals and a Mayor with a heart of gold.

One can already spot inspirations behind this crime drama, but as a whole it is thoroughly original. Although the film’s star-studded cast, fascinating characters, and witty dialogue reminded me of Martin Scorsese’s movies like “The Departed”, it is highly unique and unlike anything I’ve seen this year. It’s a nostalgic homage to crime movies from the 1970’s made in the energetic directing style of David O. Russell.

The performances are fantastic, the writing is a joy to behold and the direction is mesmerizing. “American Hustle” is an extremely well-made film that demands to be seen if you love movies.

As I previously mentioned, David O. Russell’s guidance as a writer on this film is jaw-dropping. Nowadays, it is usually the story or plot that engages an audience, but rarely ever do you come across a film that keeps you on the edge of your seat due to how interesting characters are. I’ve seen a few movies, such as Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” that have managed to entertain only through characterization, however, not many have pulled off this feat as well as “American Hustle”.

In recent memory, no script has affected a film as much as this. Not only is it filled with fascinating characters you come to adore, the dialogue between them is sharp, witty and quite thought-provoking. There’s a rhythm, a rat-a-tat quality to the way characters speak almost as if words are dancing out of their mouths. The interactions that they have hold your attention throughout the film’s long running time, and that is quite an astonishing feat when you consider that there is little to no action in the film itself.

In terms of direction, the movie is also impressively filmed with a memorable style. You can always tell when you’re watching a David O. Russell film, because they are shot in a highly personal and energetic manner. In each of his films, the camera is constantly moving with the energy of the characters. From intense zoom shots that display the feelings of characters to long, involving scenes that intensify heated arguments, the cinematography gives “American Hustle” a cheerful mood and atmosphere. There’s always a risk for an audience to be taken out of a film due to shaky camera-work, but surprisingly it enhances the film to another level.

You also never feel frustrated or overwhelmed by the amount of actors in this film. When you’re dealing with five of the most talented stars working in Hollywood today, it is far from easy to let each of them shine, however, what’s befuddling is that they do. Each of the actors are at the top of their games, bringing their characters to life in award-worthy turns.
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Christian Bale delivers a fantastic performance as a self-centered, yet confident con-man that is unaware of the consequences that result from using people. Unlike you’ve ever seen him before, the actor sets the screen on fire in a role that reminded me of Robert De Niro’s gangster character from Martin Scorsese’s crime epics of the 1990’s. Charming, charismatic, and highly likable, he reveals an emotionally vulnerable side to him he has never displayed before as an actor. After nearly 30 years of acting, Christian Bale finally deserves everyone’s attention.

Bradley Cooper proves just how versatile he is as an actor in the role of a hot-headed cop that has an obsession with women. Stealing every scene he appears in, Cooper is exciting, exhilarating, yet above all, channels a comedic side to his acting I’ve never seen before. No longer the heartthrob of pass-time romantic-comedies, here he lets loose in an unforgettable performance that provides hilarious comical relief and persona.

Amy Adams has never been better, bringing to screen one of the most fascinating female characters in recent years. What makes her performance jaw-dropping is how she manages to balance two different sides to her character at once, one of a mysterious woman under disguise and the other of a woman that struggles to face reality.

The last memorable standout is Jennifer Lawrence in the role of a suspicious housewife. In a career that has so far seen her commit to action, comedy and drama, it amazes me how she yet again displays herself as a talent to be reckoned with. Is there anything she can’t do?

I was rather taken aback when I first saw these nearly unrecognizable actors in the movie’s trailer, but surprisingly enough their makeup works very well. The funky hair-dos, elaborate costume designs and glamorous sets capture the time period of the 1970’s quite impressively. A collage of rock-and-roll songs, Danny Elfman’s soundtrack keeps you engaged in the film throughout, also bringing out the feeling of the time period. The 1970’s are emulated so well that you almost forget that you’re watching a movie.

Although I highly enjoyed “American Hustle”, I don’t think that it’s a film without flaws. At times, the plot is so confusing and hard to follow, that I struggled to understand what was going on in the movie. Perhaps, a focused story would have helped. The movie also lacks the emotional power- or insight- of David O. Russell’s previous films. Whereas they offered enlightening views into topics like family, there unfortunately isn’t a message movie-goers can take away from this film.

Fans of David O. Russell’s style will definitely adore “American Hustle”, and so will anyone looking for a fun time at the movies. It wasn’t necessarily as ‘great’ as I’d expected it to be, and it had a story that was rather disappointing but it had amazing acting that drew me to it.

4/5 stars

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