AMERICAN HUSTLE (David O. Russell, 2014)
From the trailers, AMERICAN HUSTLE promises to be loud, outrageous, silly, ruthless, stylish, and an undeniable Oscar bait. For all those promises, the film delivers a huge check mark. The film is far from perfect, though we can credit director David O. Russell for crafting a throwback caper that shows us how capers are supposed to look and feel like. (Yes, I am looking at you MONUMENTS MEN!)
An elaborate fraud operation is perpetrated by partners-in-crime Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser, using the alias "Lady Edith Greensly" (Amy Adams). The film starts with their whirlwind romance which led to a successful partnership, in the spirit of Bonnie and Clyde, without the killings. Irving and Sydney are perfect together, and the camera loves to frame them in moments of ecstasy during the first half of the film.
Yet all these occur despite the fact that Irving is married to Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), a volatile, loudmouth, and controlling woman who will ultimately be his demise, so to speak. Rosalyn tempts her way into getting what she wants, and Lawrence who's proven she can do sexy sizzles with character and playful demeanor. As Irving says in the end of the film, Rosalyn will always remain "interesting".
To add more crazy on the crazy train, Bradley Cooper steps in as hotshot FBI Agent Richie DiMaso, who is hellbent on making a career out of the two crooks he's stung. In a shorter version, Irving and Sydney now work for Richie in exchange for their freedom. Hell yes, living a life of crime has consequences.
The mark is Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) of Camden, New Jersey- a good-natured man who plans to revitalize Atlantic City through legalized gambling. So therein lies the opportunity to bag the big fish, but there's one moral conflict right from the very start, which the filmmakers do a great job of emphasizing in the end- Polito is a good man, proverbially. In legal terms, the entrapment planned by Richie and Co. would be classified as "instigation".
I liked the style, the hairs, the costumes, and the look of the film, the way it moves at an even pace so as to let us connect with each of the characters. If OCEAN'S ELEVEN were filled with so much repressed sexuality, sarcasm, and obsession with hair, it would be called AMERICAN HUSTLE.
Having said that, and having enjoyed the wild ride, AMERICAN HUSTLE missteps when the film over-adores its characters to the point of narcissism. Cooper's character is overtly self-assured that we begin to hate his guts. Meanwhile, Bale looked like a grifter who will forever be undermined by the female species. Nevertheless, this is much better than SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, but quite inferior to THE FIGHTER (my opinion).
AMERICAN HUSTLE is one of two films nominated in this year's Oscars that tackles American excess (WOLF OF WALL STREET being the other), and if made to choose for the Awards, I put my money on Jennifer Lawrence for Best Supporting Actress, Michael Wilkinson for Best Costume Design, and Judy Becker and Heather Loeffler for Best Production Design. WOLF can take Best Actor for Leo, and Best Director for Marty.
And all this because "the tale of survival is a story that never ends".