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David O. Russell Talks 'American Hustle' in Dubai, Redemption, Scorsese and Embracing "Muscular" Cinema

Photo of Matt Mueller By Matt Mueller | Thompson on Hollywood December 18, 2013 at 6:24PM

Is there a filmmaker of recent times who's enjoyed a more impressive career rebound than David O. Russell? Before "The Fighter" in 2010, Russell's career was in tatters, and in danger of flatlining for good. But that shrewd blend of "Rocky"-style boxing saga and family psychodrama marked a magnificent return to form, and was duly recognized with seven Oscar nominations. "Silver Linings Playbook" won Jennifer Lawrence her Oscar. Now "American Hustle" is in the mix. Russell talks about his career redemption.
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David O. Russell in Dubai
David O. Russell in Dubai
Amy Adams and Christian Bale in 'American Hustle.'
Amy Adams and Christian Bale in 'American Hustle.'

Is there a recent filmmaker who has enjoyed a more impressive career rebound than David O. Russell? Before "The Fighter" in 2010, Russell's career was in tatters, and in danger of flatlining for good. But that shrewd melding of "Rocky"-style boxing saga and family psychodrama marked a magnificent return to form, and was duly recognized with seven Oscar nominations and a pair of wins for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. It was followed last year by "Silver Linings Playbook," which propelled Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence to new career heights, performance-wise, and brought Lawrence her own Oscar. 

With "American Hustle," which goes into wide release this weekend, Russell shows off his renewed vigor with the most ambitious and virtuoso feature yet in what he calls his "comeback trilogy." Having been named Best Picture by the New York Film Critics Circle and garnered seven Golden Globe nominations, "American Hustle" which charts the 70s Abscam scandal through the amorous and combative engagements of four desperate but enthralling characters, could be the film that brings Russell his own, first Oscar statuette. He's in the running for picture, director, screenplay and editing, if not nominations for his superb actors who made significant contributions to the end results. 

On his "American Hustle" campaign promo tour, Russell dropped into the Dubai International Film Festival, where his seventh feature was the closing-night film, and sat down for a chat with TOH. Despite arriving only hours earlier from London, Russell, who brings a spiky reputation into interviews, was in an open, relaxed and jovial mood.

The opening sequence, with Christian Bale's character Irving meticulously crafting his combover, is fantastic. It sets the tone that this is a movie about characters, and about who people want to be in their lives.

That's what Christian and I wanted the whole movie to be about, all of us. I inherited a script that I rewrote. I wanted to make this about the characters, not the events. The events are secondary to me. I want it to be about their love lives and their hearts and their survival and the theme of reinvention. I like to feel the passion that people feel for life. Even if they've made terrible mistakes and are having to reckon with them, I love that they love someone or they love Duke Ellington or they love their hair. It's very vulnerable and human to me. My father had a combover so there's something very endearing about it to me. 

This article is related to: David O. Russell, David O. Russell, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Academy Awards, Silver Linings Playbook, Awards, Awards Season Roundup, Awards, Interviews, Interviews , Interviews, Festivals, Dubai International Film Festival


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.