Saturday, December 21, 2013

Film Review - American Hustle

American Hustle is David O. Russell's follow up to Silver Linings Playbook starring his muses Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper. A film based on elements of a real FBI ABSCAM sting operation to take down corrupt government officials in the early days of Atlantic City casino industry.

We first meet Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), Lady Edith Greensley/ Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), and Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) in a hotel room meeting with the mayor of Camden New Jersey (Jeremy Renner) and a mayoral aid discussing a deal for Atlantic City. There is an unexpected break in the proceedings, which gives a moment to gain an initial insight into the complicated relationship between the three.

Next is the story turns to origins of the two central characters Irving Rosenfled and Sydney Prosser. The sequence begins with Irving as a child speaking to his fathers glass business which he inherited and his string of dry cleaning stores ending with them both going into business as con artists dealing in fake art, perfecting loan fraud, the development of Sydney's Lady Greensley character only to be busted by ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso who forces them to work for him as part of the Abscam operation to catch bigger and bigger fish.

David O. Russell rewrote Eric Singer script that originally was a straight ahead piece that included many more  elements of the events of the FBI investigation. Russell wanted to change the players to make them more like those in his recent two successes The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook looking for characters in a predicament that have to reinvent themselves to survive with an element of romance.

So with his clout from his recent successes he took out all of the procedural structure from the original script along with the historical narrative focusing instead on the hearts and emotional lives of his main characters creating their worlds and narrowing in on reinvention and survival which is the formulated area that Russell plans to live in for the rest of his film making career. The result is a mess of a screenplay that goes multiple directions and completely looses the original story.

Russell includes many shots in the piece that we have seen before and are signatures for other directors and films to a point that the camera work becomes a distraction. He hits the audience several times with the fast dolly close ups. He has the grandiose sing along to Delilah in the neighbourhood Italian restaurant accompanied by the local knowledge of the food as Mayor Polito reports the veal here is cut SO thin. He includes a camera shooting up from the trunk shot as seen in Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction. Plus several camera shots that pan in from the left, pan from the right and circle around a room. He also includes two plot devices on ice fishing and nail polish that recur throughout the piece in an intruding fashion.

Michael Wilkinson and his costume design team did a disservice to Sydney Prosser in this piece. It appears that they forgot half of the upper material for each of her costumes. Just about every article of clothing Sydney wears in the piece is cut right down the middle to her navel. The costume design team did an adequate job with the rest of the characters. Their best work was on the standout over the top suites worn by Irving Rosenfled. The hair and makeup department were the standout group of the production. Many of the characters hair styles deserve their own screen credit and go a great way to create the late seventies early eighties feel of the film. The opening scene is in real time as Irving stands in front of a mirror getting his combover right setting an early marker for the importance of hair in the movie.

The film features some very strong actors and despite the jumbled scrip they do produce some notable work. Amy Adams is the best amongst the Russell All Star Team. Her character is basically three in one. She is lonely girl from Albuquerque desperate not to go back there, playing a con artist, trying to get her boyfriend away from his wife all the while posing as a British aristocrat. Christian Bale also has some good passages but it's hard to get past the notion that his role is compete Oscar bait. He uglies himself up, gains wait and is hunched over so much during filming that he actually damaged his back. Jennifer Lawrence continues to put it all out there on screen playing Irving's wife Rosalyn Rosenfeld, mad at her cheating husband but cunning enough to use her female charms to get him to stay.  She has two particularly strong exchanges with Irving; taking backdoor credit for his final plan and discussing the harms of the science oven (microwave) and how it relates to Irving's deals. The best scene in the entire film is an intense exchange between Adams and Lawrence in a bathroom that was made up on the spot and not in the script.

American Hustle is forced. The con artists are forced to work for the FBI, Russell forces his regular troop of actors into a story turning the focus upside down from the original script to give material for his ensemble to render recognition at awards time.  This is a film that I cannot recommend. It is destined for one of the bottom rungs of my film viewing of 2013. Russell attempts to combine elements of Goodfellas, Boogie Nights sprinkled in with aspects of Catch Me If You Can. It's Boogie Nights meets Goodfellas unfortunately it's on a dark road in the middle of the night resulting in a head on collision with no survivors.

* 1/2 Out of 4.

American Hustle | David O. Russell | 2013 | U.S.A. | 138 minutes.

Abscam | FBI Sting | Con- Artist | 70's Hair | Atlantic City | The Mob | Rewritten by Director | Hidden plot points.

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