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David O. Russell Screens First Six Intensely Funny Minutes of ‘American Hustle’ During AFI Fest Tribute

Festivals
by Charlie Schmidlin
November 9, 2013 4:24 PM
16 Comments
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Last night in Los Angeles on the first full day of programming for AFI Fest this year, director David O. Russell and his eclectic body of cinematic work was celebrated at the historic Egyptian Theatre, and he also brought the first six minutes of his highly-anticipated new film, “American Hustle.” However, a host of technical issues—including screening the first two minutes almost completely without sound—led the director to grow a little ornery (“We should probably shut it off,” he said, before escaping the stage to settle the problem). But even those couldn’t dismantle the comic energy and early promise that his latest effort sampled.

"It was based on a true story, but like I did with the novel of 'Silver Linings'—where I brought my own life into it—I did the same here."

“It was based on a true story, but like I did with the novel of 'Silver Linings'—where I brought my own life into it—I did the same here,” Russell said of his new film, which is inspired by the real-life ABSCAM operation in which a financial con artist, Irving Rosenfeld (played by Christian Bale) and his partner-in-crime/mistress Sydney (Amy Adams) were forced into helping the federal government after they were caught. “They taught the federal government how to con, and create a theatre to draw other people in based on what their hopes were.”

Russell said that he wanted to “focus more on the characters than on an event,” but in the first six minutes of the film, the director drops you in the middle of both elements. The opening scene takes place in the New York Plaza Hotel in 1978, and shows Christian Bale looking perhaps the worst we’ve ever seen him. Gluing on a toupee under his greasy comb over and sporting a voluminous gut, he is our first glimpse of the tragi-comic tone that Russell is aiming for upfront, and it completely works, his velvet period outfit sealing the deal.

Once Bale sorts his hair out, he struts out into the hallway to the tune of America’s “A Horse With No Name” and enter another room, where a number of federal agents set up video surveillance honing in elsewhere in the hotel on a meeting space with two couches. The door opens behind him and in walks Adams, wearing a deep-cut top that leaves little to the imagination, and right behind her, a Jheri curled Bradley Cooper as FBI agent Richie DiMaso.

The three launch into a fast-paced argument over the unclear operation they’re about to perform, and also the insinuation that Cooper and Adams’ characters may have engaged in an affair themselves. Cooper tries to example the limits of their relationship, laying his hand on Bale’s cheek to show him its extent, but Bale bats it away. “Don’t touch me. It bothers me,” he says.  

“Oh, it bothers you?” replies Cooper. “Well, a lot of shit bothers me too. I was trying to help you. If I wanted to fucking bother you, this is what I’d do.” He then threads his hand through Bale’s hair, dislodging his hairpiece and spiking his comb over up in an Alfalfa fashion. 

Bale’s reaction—simmering, frozen in complete hatred—is pitch-perfect, and the entire exchange between the three characters immediately gives you a sense of their volatile relationship. Yet hair is still the most startling element throughout the opening passages, as the trio shrug the fight off and focus on their mark: the bouffant-heavy New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito (a jovial Jeremy Renner). 

The credits play over Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work” as Bale, Adams, and Cooper meet Polito and his associate, who’s played wonderfully by “Take Shelter” actor Shea Whigham. They sit and it quickly becomes clear that Cooper is possessing a $75,000 bribe of some sort for Polito, but when he pushes the briefcase containing it over to the Mayor, the entire deal goes haywire. Polito refuses the bribe and storms out of the room, leading to another heated argument between Bale and Cooper. The clip ends with Bale leaving to “go mop up the mess”; however, we do catch the beginning of what appears to be a flashback to Bale’s childhood, as he says in voiceover, “Did you ever have to find a way to survive, and you knew your choices were bad? I learned out to survive when I was a kid.”

We’ve heard rumors that the film starts off “light and poppy” before fading into darkness during the second half, but from what we’ve seen thus far that frothy period will be massively entertaining indeed. Every actor on-screen is relishing in their role, Russell’s camera is as intense and roving as always, and altogether we can’t wait for the chance to see more. 

You can read more from Russell’s AFI Fest talk soon, and hopefully we’ll soon get a full-length look at “American Hustle,” which opens December 13 in limited release and then goes wide on December 18. Some video of the event below via Hollywood Elsewhere.

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16 Comments

  • anonyMOUSE | November 17, 2013 8:01 AMReply

    looks good, hope it is too. amy adams with a british accent--hot.

  • Z. | November 11, 2013 11:33 AMReply

    I think both Helo and Jay are correct. Jennifer Lawrence didn't appear in the first six minutes of the sneak peak because Lawence isn't in the first six minutes of the film. Though, it's entirely possible that Russell is saving Jennifer Lawrence's performance for when the film hits screens because based on the reactions of those who caught the screening last month, Lawrence is the secret weapon to the film. The early buzz based on screenings have all been about how Jennifer Lawrence knocks this role out of the park and leaves Adams in her wake (particularly in the "showdown" scene together). Yet, this was supposed to be Adams shot at another nomination, she's due, etc., but, the early reactions have been all about how it's Jennifer Lawrence who steals the film. So, showing the first six minutes of the film that showcases the three leads will help to remind people that this story mainly revolves around Bale, Adams, Cooper. I'm really looking forward to this film as I am a huge Russell fan and based on what I've read/heard, Jennifer Lawrence is the best part of a great film.

  • Jay | November 11, 2013 1:21 PM

    I agree. Even in Silver linings playbook, Jennifer lawrence appeared about 25 minutes into the movie and her performance still stood out amongst the stellar cast. I fear same may apply to 'American Hustle' but it doesn't matter really. I just feel Lawrence kinda has the key to unlocking Russell's imagination (IMO) just as Christoph Waltz does for Tarantino. This is not to shy away from the incredible talent Lawrence is, even the directors she has worked with previously all want to work with her again: Susanne Bier, Gary Ross, David O Russell and her co stars praise her without lip service. In short, she's a blessing to Hollywood.

  • Jay | November 11, 2013 1:21 PM

    I agree. Even in Silver linings playbook, Jennifer lawrence appeared about 25 minutes into the movie and her performance still stood out amongst the stellar cast. I fear same may apply to 'American Hustle' but it doesn't matter really. I just feel Lawrence kinda has the key to unlocking Russell's imagination (IMO) just as Christoph Waltz does for Tarantino. This is not to shy away from the incredible talent Lawrence is, even the directors she has worked with previously all want to work with her again: Susanne Bier, Gary Ross, David O Russell and her co stars praise her without lip service. In short, she's a blessing to Hollywood.

  • Helo | November 10, 2013 10:35 AMReply

    Apparently, it's Jennifer Lawrence who has been getting the most buzz (based on early screening reports and also the trailers). Kris Tapley over at InContention wrote an article about Jennifer Lawrence/American Hustle, claiming that "Lawrence might be the best part of the film and that it's Lawrence who gets the funniest lines, and gives a broad, comedic performance," etc., and according to AICN, and their screening report, outshines Adams during their showdown scene together. It might be why only six minutes of the film was shown at the AFI on 11/8, only showing Adams, Bale and Cooper...to remind people that those three are the leads, I guess, and because they are a little intimidated at the prospect of a 23 year old actress stealing the show. Sounds awesome...can't wait for the film!.

  • Jay | November 11, 2013 8:41 AM

    @HELLO...I kinda agree with you...especially with reports that Lawrence who was cast as at last minute may have outshined others...but I think maybe David O Russell is trying to reserve her surprisingly awesome performance in a small role in the full movie and not at an AFI fest? Bcos I think that’s what he has been trying to do with the trailers too- nobody actually has an exact idea of the movie...the first trailer was more comedic...second was dramatic....etc.

  • Duane | November 10, 2013 5:36 PM

    They showed the first six minutes of Hustle at AFI and Lawrence just wasn't in it for the first six minutes. Had the chosen to show random scenes from anywhere in the movie you might have a point but they wanted to show how it begins, so thanks for trying.

  • James | November 10, 2013 8:24 AMReply

    Curious to see if this will live up to the hype.
    The music choices sound a little bit too obvious, but we'll see.

  • Anna | November 10, 2013 6:31 AMReply

    Officially joining in that league that wants this to finally be Adams' shot. Looks promising.

  • oogle monster | November 10, 2013 12:17 AMReply

    People have been massively underestimating Adams. I think she will be nominated but may not win against the unstoppable force that is Cate Blanchett. But watch out Lady Dench... you're going down!

  • Boy Boy | November 9, 2013 5:43 PMReply

    Gonna be good for sure.

  • Monica | November 9, 2013 4:50 PMReply

    Not a wig, Bale shaved his hair. I was confirmed by O. Russell and Bale on entertainment weekly.

  • AH | November 12, 2013 12:45 PM

    @Forrest
    I agree he shaved his head and had a comb over, but commentaries on the clip have said that the character glues in a hair piece on screen.

  • Forrest | November 10, 2013 1:13 AM

    @AH
    its' a comb-over not a hair piece. all bale's own hair.

  • AH | November 10, 2013 12:42 AM

    The charater has a hair piece on as part of his costume for the sting. Bale did partially shave his head, presumably so they could have this sort of fun with his hair piece.

  • caro | November 9, 2013 5:35 PM

    it's why Bale entirely shaved his head at the end of the filming (i remember his shaved head at the airport in DailyMail)

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