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‘American Hustle’ terrific movie

1/9/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Craig Marks

From left, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper star in “American Hustle.”
Photo: Francois Duhamel, Annapurna Productions LLC
David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” is in the running for Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globe Awards Jan. 12. Its inclusion in that category has been the subject of some discussion, as it’s debatable that the film is really a comedy.

What’s not up for debate — at least in my opinion — is the quality of the movie. “Hustle” is a real winner, whichever box you place it in.

The film, directed and co-written by Russell, takes a forgotten political scandal and turns it into a meditation on human nature. “People believe what they want to believe,” so goes a line in the movie, and the characters are a testament to that. Whether it’s the chance for love or money or to revitalize a dying city, they are ripe for the con.

The year is 1978. The economy is not in great shape, which makes it easy for con man Irving Rosenfeld (an unrecognizable Christian Bale) to prey on those in need of funds. Rosenfeld can’t get by on his looks, with a beer belly and hair that needs to be rubber cemented into place. But he does have confidence, which attracts a sexy sidekick (Amy Adams) who goes by the name Lady Edith. Together, they pull off scams and live the high life. (Adams’ character wears the kind of revealing outfits that remind me of what Cher used to wear on her ’70s variety shows, dresses that would make my dad exclaim, “What is she not wearing?”)

But raining on their parade is FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who recruits/blackmails Irving and Edith for his own purposes. DiMaso is after big fish — white-collar crime — and the three run a sting operation that will involve a supposed sheik, the mob and a do-gooding, bribe-taking New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner). Also thrown in the mix, despite Irving’s objections, is his unpredictable wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

There is not a saint among them, but neither are they total sinners. The motivations for their actions are complex and not always on the surface, which makes their actions compelling. Russell keeps things moving at a swift pace, whether dealing with the sting operation — a fictional retelling of the Abscam scandal — or the interpersonal relationships of the characters. And the cast, from top to bottom, gives performances worthy of award consideration.

And speaking of awards, were the Golden Globes correct in calling “American Hustle” a comedy? I’d say no, despite the big laughs Louis C.K. gets as an ineffective FBI boss; despite how it’s funny in the same way a 1978 photo album is funny, full of hairstyles and fashions that haven’t aged well; and despite Rosalyn’s adventures with a certain modern appliance. And despite …

OK, in the spirit of the movie, if you believe it’s a comedy, it’s a comedy.

The movie, currently in theaters, is rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence.

Four Stars (out of four)


Craig Marks is a cartoonist and editorial, sports and entertainment writer for the West Side Leader.

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