Saturday, December 21, 2013

American Hustle

Characters in David O. Russell's films approach one another at odd angles, sometimes glancing off, sometimes colliding. This angularity is depicted not just in his movies' unusual narratives (from Spanking the Monkey's tale of incest and self-loathing to Silver Lining Playbook's unflinching depiction of the chaotic courtship of two emotional disasters) but also in the way the characters talk to one another and, indirectly, to us, the audience. It often feels like Russell's people are mining for a just-so aphorism or bon mot that will settle the matter at hand -- whatever that matter might be. The results of this scramble are nearly always delightful and more often than not revealing. In American Hustle, the matter is a con (based on the Abscam sting of the late '70s) being staged by an unhinged federal agent (Bradley Cooper) who extorts the cooperation of two grifters, Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser (a paunchy Christian Bale and barely clad Amy Adams), to try to bring down some greedy New Jersey congressmen. Also caught up in the caper is the mayor of Camden, New Jersey, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) and Rosenfeld's cluelessly narcissistic wife Rosalyn ("It Girl" Jennifer Lawrence). The actors spin around each other like skaters on ice, teasing and enticing and terrorizing, sometimes as part of the con and sometimes simply because they know of no other way to behave. All of the principals and featured players are wonderful in their roles, which occasionally are upstaged by the disco-era coifs and bling. Highly Recommended.

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