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Pros and cons American Hustle'

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American Hustle American Hustle

Russell's latest film one of 2013's best

Here at year's end is often where we find the films designed to elicit awards-season attention. Sometimes, those films more than earn those impending nominations. Other times, they don't quite measure up in terms of being 'prestige' pictures.

David O. Russell struck gold with last year's 'Silver Linings Playbook.' It made you wonder if he could repeat the trick with this year's 'American Hustle,' which he directed and co-wrote.

Turns out he could indeed.

'American Hustle' is loosely based on a true story the film even leads with a 'Some of this actually happened' title card a widespread corruption investigation known as Abscam.

Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale; 'Out of the Furnace') is a con man; his go-to is convincing suckers that he can get them loans for a relatively small (and totally non-refundable) fee. At a party, he meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams; 'Man of Steel') and immediately falls for her. The two quickly become entangled both personally and professionally; Sydney becomes Edith Greensly, a tangentially-noble Brit with vague London banking connections, and partners up with Irving.

Unfortunately, it isn't all smooth sailing in either the personal or the professional respects. On the personal side, Irving is actually married to the aggressively unstable Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence; 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'). Meanwhile, on the professional side, Irving and Sydney get caught up in an FBI investigation led by the ambitious Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper; 'The Hangover Part III'). In exchange for a clean slate, Irving and Sydney agree to help DiMaso bust a handful of other con artists using a scheme built around a mythical Arab sheikh.

But it all escalates when one of the con men involves Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner; 'The Immigrant'), the popular mayor of Camden, New Jersey. DiMaso is swept away by the idea of a bust that keeps getting bigger and bigger, so he keeps upping the stakes much to the chagrin of his superior Stoddard Thorson (Louis C.K.; 'Blue Jasmine'). Before long, other elected officials are getting caught in the netand it turns out that the Mob led by notorious heavy Victor Tellegio (an uncredited Robert De Niro) wants a piece of the action.

Irving is left trying to figure out an escape plan for himself and for Sydney one that also keeps his family safe and keeps everyone from winding up on a troublesome list, be it the FBI's Most Wanted or an organized crime hit list.

One of the things that is always striking about David O. Russell's work is how much trust he seems to have in his actors. In an age of quick cuts and choppy edits, Russell is unafraid to let the camera linger an extra second. He allows for the occasional extended pause. There's space to be found in his films; it leaves room for the actors to use the tools at their disposal to enrich their respective performances.

And enrich them, they do. Christian Bale is absolutely phenomenal as Irving; few actors working today inhabit their roles as fully as Bale does. Physically, emotionally, vocally Bale nails it. He vanishes into the part; no mean feat for a movie star. Amy Adams has always felt a bit underrated to me; she's excellent once again as the tough-as-nails Sydney, never leaving any doubt that she always believes herself to be the smartest one in the room. Bradley Cooper has never done better work than what he has done on Russell's watch; his twitchy portrayal of the neurotic, obsessive DiMaso is great fun to watch.

Jeremy Renner has never been better. His take on man-of-the-people Polito is both broad and subtle; he creates a man we can empathize with, someone fully compartmentalizing his inner world and capable of justifying the bad by way of the good. Lawrence shouts, slurs and slinks her way through the proceedings; she's good, but something is missing. The shallowness of the character is clearly intentional, but she still feels off; it might just be that she's underused. And the surprising Louis C.K. is great as the straight man, seemingly the only normal one in a sea of broad, bizarre weirdos.

The story itself is compelling, though admittedly things lag a bit in the film's second act. Still, the world created by Russell and co-writer Eric Singer is a richly realized one. As far as how many of the events of the film happened in real lifedoes it matter? The opening quantification of 'some' seems perfectly acceptable. 'American Hustle' is a compelling tale built on a foundation of truth do we really care if the walls are fiction?

This movie is going to garner a lot of attention for its director, its writers and its cast over the coming months and deservedly so.

[5 out of 5]

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