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Movie Review: American Hustle
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Adam Frazier   |  @   |  
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American Hustle Movie PosterAmerican Hustle
Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner
Columbia Pictures
Rated R | 132 Minutes
Release Date: December 20, 2013

“Some of this actually happened.”

With steely concentration, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) glues a toupée to the top of his head. Once the swatch of synthetic hair is in place, he meticulously combs the thinning hair on his temples over and around it. To complete the masterful act of male grooming, Irving blasts his new ‘do with industrial-strength hairspray.

This is the opening sequence of American Hustle, the latest film by director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook). The film is loosely based on the 1978 ABSCAM scandal, a series of FBI operations designed to uncover corrupt government officials.

Standing there in front of the mirror, sporting a serious paunch and a colorful ascot, Irving could be mistaken for Roy Munson, Woody Harrelson’s character from Kingpin: a sad, semi-pathetic hustler chasing the American dream. With the help of his partner and lover, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), Irving sells art forgeries and participates in investment schemes.

After getting busted in a sting operation, the two hustlers are recruited by maverick FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who uses them to ensnare shifty politicians and mafiosos making deals behind closed doors.

The operation eventually involves Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) of Camden, New Jersey, a good man (with a fantastic pompadour) who takes dirty money to rebuild his poverty-stricken city. Meanwhile, Irving’s wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), becomes an unpredictable wrecking ball that could bring the entire operation crashing down.

Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale in American Hustle

American Hustle recalls Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Casino, with competing voiceovers and a vintage soundtrack including Elton John’s “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road” and Wings’ “Live and Let Die.” It’s also evocative of Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain, an over-the-top comedic crime drama with characters that are so engaging, they almost make up for the disappointing narrative.

Ultimately, the by-the-numbers cops and con-artists story isn’t the main attraction here. American Hustle is really a showcase for electric performances by a brilliant ensemble. Many will point to Lawrence’s boozy, out-of-control Rosalyn, Adams’ bold, sexy Sydney, or Cooper’s tight-curled sociopathic FBI agent, but it’s Bale who steals the show with another transformative role.

Bale is no stranger to changing his body for a role. The actor once lost 63 pounds for The Machinist, bulked up for Batman Begins, and lost weight again to play a drug addict in The Fighter. For Hustle, Bale gained 43 pounds and delivers a performance reminiscent of De Niro in Raging Bull. In a year that has seen great turns by Matthew McConaughey, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bruce Dern, Tom Hanks, and Robert Redford, Bale could go unnoticed by Academy members – but his work is every bit as impressive here as a sad fraud caught in the middle of a swirling shit storm.

Funny, sexy, and altogether absurd, Russell’s film is a tantalizing crime drama about faking it in America. With a stacked cast, fantastic production design, and sharp direction, American Hustle is certainly the most entertaining contender in this year’s Best Picture race.

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