MOVIE MAN

Superior actors ‘Hustle’ to awards stand

By Movie Man | Published Wednesday, January 15, 2014

There are all sorts of movies and everyone has their favorite genre.

The Movie Man prefers comedies, horror/monster (good horror/monster, rare today), and movies that dare to be or look different.

Down the preference ladder for the Movie Man are war pictures. That’s why he skipped “Lone Survivor” – which substantially out-performed projections to win the weekly box office race – and dipped back to “American Hustle,” a movie that you’ll hear more and more about as the awards season engages. It just won several Golden Globes.

ABOUT THE FILM

“Hustle” director David O. Russell is one of those guys who makes different movies.

His inventive “Three Kings” caught the eye of the Movie Man back in 1999 (a 7). Then, however, Russell went five years before his next movie, the offbeat “I Heart Huckabees” (2004).

However, his following three movies were big successes: “The Fighter” (2010), “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012, a 6) and now “American Hustle.”

“Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle” have a specific trait in common: They’re movies people either love or hate. (Sites where the common man can comment – like Internet Movie Database – run the gamut with “Silver Linings Playbook,” from the wild praise to the worst movie ever.)

Russell’s films are always off-kilter, unlike usual Hollywood dramas. His subject matter, when generically written out, appears to plot traditionally.

But Russell makes them different. And there’s always a big, standout scene, usually involving music, disco in “American Hustle.” (Or in the case of “Silver Linings Playbook,” a dance competition.)

Russell doesn’t exactly churn out movies, and there’s nothing on the horizon for him. But the way things are going, “American Hustle” is going to be around for a while anyway.

THE PLOT (SPOILERS)

In 1978, when small businessman Irving (Christian Bale) spies Sydney (Amy Adams) at a party, it’s love at first sight. The fact that he’s married to volatile Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) is a hassle, but Bale and Adams remain two peas in a pod.

That’s because they branch out from dry cleaners and small-time art forgeries to running investment scams.

It looks like they have another sucker on the hook when Richie (Bradley Cooper) shows up in the dingy office. He turns the table on them since he’s a FBI agent. But Cooper’s not interested in the duo – he wants to land big fish like politicians and offers Bale and Adams amnesty if they’ll help him put a scam together.

They end up focusing on a New Jersey mayor, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), who needs money to build casinos to get his beloved area back on track economically. Things get a bit complicated when the mayor and his wife become friends with Bale and Lawrence – something that not only bugs Adams but threatens the grift.

When it looks like they’ve pulled the scam off, Cooper is giddy, much to the chagrin of his superior Stoddard (Louis C.K.).

But then … this is called “American Hustle” for a reason.

WHAT WORKS

Russell, as usual, lets his actors improvise, and that can make for some exciting acting. All of the principal actors are exceptional. Bale, Adams, Lawrence and Cooper are all fantastic – this is a real set of superior actors.

Renner is good, too; he’s turning out to be the unsung actor of the ensemble. (See Best scene)

Especially memorable is the movie’s soundtrack. It’s loaded with great ’70’s tunes, including a slew of hits that are well-placed in the movie.

Lawrence sings along with Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” while breaking the “fourth wall” – performing directly to the audience. But the conceit is soon revealed to be her singing along while she’s cleaning her house.

Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” – the first huge electronic hit (which is a dance song and very long) – sounds terrific. Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is also well-used as is Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.”

Jeff Lynne’s “Long Black Road” mimics that guitar-driven rock era perfectly.

The ’70’s are recalled in fashion – wild ties and women with deeply cut fronts to their dresses – and in atmosphere.

The movie is shot like it’s being played on an old VCR, recorded on a used videotape.

The revelation of the grift is fun, and Cooper’s dawning that he’s been duped is too.

BEST SCENE (SPOILER)

Bale is glad the sting has worked, but there’s one loose end and it’s a bummer. The truly good guy, Mayor Renner, is going to jail. Guilt-ridden, Bale travels to Renner’s house and tells him about the scam in person – and that Renner has not only been duped but also caught up in the law-breaking.

When it dawns on him what has happened, Renner is mortified and his devoted wife begins wailing. That brings down the children who see their gentle, moral dad wailing away on a guy then discovering what has occurred.

Soon, everyone – including Bale – is weeping and shattered. It’s powerful.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK

“American Hustle” takes its time letting the characters build and get established. For some moviegoers, the two hours, 18 minutes running time will seem monstrously excessive.

The movie, like “Silver Linings Playbook,” feels like it should be better. There are stretches where it seems a bit self-indulgent, like some sequences (in true improv fashion) were created on the spot and maybe could’ve used some direction.

Robert De Niro shows up in yet another tough guy role, and suddenly “American Hustle” seemed like it was trying to be “Casino.”

THE RATING

“American Hustle” is a moderate R with some sensuous material, plunging necklines and a slew of language.

SUMMING UP

This is one of those polarizing movies that one person will love and the guy/gal next to him/her will wonder what all the fuss is about.

NEXT UP

Tom Clancy returns with “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.”

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