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Movie Review: 'American Hustle'

American Hustle
A: Comedy-Drama
Dir: David O Russell
Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner
***

After a string of quirky edgy comedy drama hits like Flirting With Disaster and Three Kings, David O Russell underwent a career dip. I Heart Huckabees was still critically well-received, but was nowhere near the cult status of his earlier movies. The Fighter sort of rebooted his career and last year’s Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook has given him some sort of a wonderful adrenaline shot.

From left: Jennifer Lawrence, Elisabeth Röhm, Christian Bale and Jeremy Renner in 'American Hustle'
From left: Jennifer Lawrence, Elisabeth Röhm, Christian Bale and Jeremy Renner in 'American Hustle'

His latest, American Hustle, is not a motion picture. It’s more of an acting showcase by a group of extremely talented individuals sent in front of cameras to do their thing. More importantly, the film is not the perpetually hilarious fun ride that the trailers make it out to be. There is a lot of desperation, drama, manipulation and to an extent, depression in the film, but the acting is so magnetic it’s impossible to not be entertained on some bizarre level.

American Hustle opens with the amusing title card ‘Some of this is true’ — Christian Bale and his twenty extra pounds stars as Irving Rosenfield, a con artist with a ridiculous wig and the singular mission to hustle Americans out of their money. He teams up with the uber hot Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) and launches the ABSCAM, which was the original offline version of the Nigerian Prince scam. Things take a turn when somehow a noble Mayor (Jeremy Renner) gets involved, a cop (Bradley Cooper) picks up their trail and Irving’s unpredictable ex-wife (Jennifer Lawrence) goes ballistic over him in her continuing efforts to get him back.

If the movie gives you an impression of the screenplay being nonexistent, then you’re not far off. Most of the dialogue is very obviously improvised on set, and because these actors are so good they pull off some of the most memorable scenes of the year.

From Bale’s meticulous application of his wig, to his shouting matches with Lawrence, to the camaraderie between Adams and Cooper — it’s all impulsive and a lot of fun. The big finale might feel like a letdown because the movie builds up an Ocean’s Eleven type vibe and it doesn’t deliver on that scale. Fans of Scorsese will either be pleased or infuriated because American Hustle is the most Scorsese-esque film that Russell has ever made. All of his previous movies have had a nod or two to the auteur’s style but in this case, without the credits, it would be hard for the average audience to figure out whether Scorsese or Russell directed this film.

It’s certainly not the greatest film of the year as the busload of Oscar nominations try to tell you, but it’s a pretty entertaining film for film buffs. Russell has this unmatchable knack of staging dysfunctional verbal fistfights and it’s a joy to see these actors flex their acting chops. It released in India without any cuts and that’s a rarity these days, so make the most of it and watch it in theatres.

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