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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Early Returns: American Hustle

SILKY
American Hustle - Silky

The name David O. Russell can evoke a lot of emotions, especially if you talk to either George Clooney or Lily Tomlin.  The man has the special talent to bring both the best, and worst, out in people.  While there is no doubt Russell can be called a total prick, there is also no doubt that the guy has been putting out quality films since "Spanking the Monkey" all the way back in 1994.  Almost 20 years later, Russell has released his most refined, and silky, film to date in "American Hustle," starring the likes of Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Russell's newest muse, Jennifer Lawrence.

"Hustle" is the tale of two con artists (Bale and Adams) who are forced to join forces with an FBI Agent (Bradley Cooper) who has entirely too much to prove. The unlikely trio set out to uncover corruption that involves a fake sheik, members of Congress, the Mafia, and a local mayor of Camden, New Jersey, played by Jeremy Renner.  Throw in a nagging wife, played wonderfully by Lawrence, and those are the basics of "Hustle."

While I might have just simplified the plot for spoiler's-sake above, the film is much more than your standard grifters-on-the-run-from-the-law story.  I'd liken "Hustle" very much to "Goodfellas" in it's storytelling and use of the 1970s as the backdrop.  I also mention "Goodfellas" in it's use of a very interesting cameo that I won't mention, again, for spoiler's-sake.

While I will commend Russell for his direction and vision, the acting really shines in "Hustle."  I have no doubt in my mind that all four main actors, Adams, Bale, Cooper, and Lawrence, will be up for Oscars come February.  I'll even go as far as saying that this will be Adams' Oscar year.  Her turn as Sydney Prosser is magical, and proves that Adams is one of the best actresses in the business that still seems to be overlooked.  Lawrence steals the show in the scenes she's in, and the same goes for Cooper.  Bale is the rock of the film however, and provides a calming cool to the insanity that seems to swirl around him.  Renner is fine in his role as Mayor Carmine Polito, but one of the best unsung performances will go to Louis C.K, who plays the brow-beaten boss of Cooper's unhinged FBI Agent.

Like I mentioned before, this is Russell's "Goodfellas."  Loosely based on actual events, Russell weaves a story that has you guessing until the very end, and much like Martin Scorsese does in most of his films, music plays a major part.  Russell picks some of the best music from 70's, and makes Duke Ellington, and his music, one of the points of attraction between Bale and Adams' characters, and it makes sense in the scheme, no pun intended, of things.  Jazz artists like Ellington had to improve all the time, it's the heartbeat of jazz, improvisation, and you can say the same thing for people running cons; constant improvisation.  The allegory is fantastic, if you catch it, but it's not entirely relevant to the overall plot, just a cute little thing that Russell throws into his film.

At it's core, "Hustle" is a caper film in the spirit of "Jackie Brown" and "Catch Me If You Can."  It has spunk, heart, and like I said before, is silky smooth, with plenty of style to spare.  Best film of the year?  Let's not quite go there yet, but if "Hustle" is any inclination of the films to come the rest of 2013, we should be in store for plenty of treats the rest of the month of December.  Christmas comes early with "American Hustle."

Fun Fact:  The story of "American Hustle" is loosely based on the events of ABSCAM, in the late 1970s and 1980s.    

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