American Hustle – 2013

Director David O. Russell
Starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence
Screenplay Eric Warren Singer and Russell

There is a feeling of barely restrained whimsy in the events of American Hustle.  Instead of being the kind of film that aspires to be truthful while embellishing the facts, Russell and co-writer Singer make the proclamation “Some of this actually happened.”  Originally titled American Bullshit, the film shows bad perms, comb-overs and bra-less bimbos playing fast and loose and listening to no one.  If Sandra Bullock wouldn’t have lasted more than 5 minutes in Space Cowboys, Adams, perhaps, could last about half-way through Goodfellas.  Bale, Cooper and Lawrence would have been snuffed faster than you could say “Pesci.”

This is not to say that American Hustle is not entertaining.  The desperation, the mugging faces and the bad accents all amount to a very fun 2:10.  Instead of trying to figure out where the filmmakers veered from accuracy, it is much more fun to roll with it, and to be pleasantly surprised when they indeed got something right.  There is no small amount of irony when Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper share a table with Robert DeNiro and, in the process, witness his abbreviated screen time as the best thing in the film.  Just when they put their method acting pants on, they get to see someone who hasn’t acted with any sort of method since Cop Land.

This is not to say that the performances aren’t all good.  Bale and Adams are excellent.  Cooper and Russell are good, if a little more campy than one would expect for Oscar nominations.  Really the film works for anyone who loves nostalgic films based in the 1970’s, like Dazed and Confused, Boogie Nights, and even Goodfellas.  The ’70s is the decade that just keeps on giving for filmmakers.  The music was awesome, the outfits were bad and everybody was clueless about how horrible things would be when W. and Obama got in office.  Back then we all thought Nixon was a punchline, not a standard of excellence.

As Russell films go, this one won’t make it into his top 3.  Those spots go to Silver Linings Playbook, Three Kings and (despite the overbearing Melissa Leo), The Fighter.   One can’t be entirely certain it will be remembered in 10 years for any more than The Age of Innocence comes to mind when pondering the Scorsese repertoire.

The fun of seeing people act tacky while out on the town will always be a great way for a movie watcher to spend a night.  Not necessarily a movie night out, to be sure, but it’s not like I write this blog because I spend a lot of nights out.

(**** out *****)

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