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Review: In David O. Russell's 'American Hustle,' It's All About the Women

by John Anderson
December 13, 2013 1:03 PM
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Jennifer Lawrence in "American Hustle"

“Some of this actually happened,” reads the cheeky intro to David O. Russell’s Abscam-inspired “American Hustle,” after which one immediately relaxes: Great. No need to know anything about FBI stings, Jersey politics or crushed velour; we’re playing fast-and-loose with facts, and who remembers ’70s-style corruption anyway, with Rob Ford and Ted Cruz lumbering across the landscape? 

The really important things are happening right before our eyes: Jennifer Lawrence becoming the most potent synthesis of comedy and feline sexuality to hit the screen for half a century. Amy Adams coming in a close second. And Russell managing to make a movie steeped in cultural nostalgia that also sneers at the notion that the past is past.

'American Hustle'

There are men in this movie, too. But all the plot points about politics, mobsters and FBI stings seem like afterthoughts to the women and sex that permeate every frame of the film.

At the center is a highly unlikely Lothario -- Irving Rosenfeld, played by a Christian Bale who gained more weight than he lost for “The Machinist” (a film in which he pre-McConaughey’d McConaughey). The paunchy bewigged and very married Irving is running a highly successful confidence game with his partner/lover, Lady Edith Something-hyphen-Something-Pitt-Crawley, a.k.a Sydney Prosser a.k.a Adams (shades of Stanwyck in “The Lady Eve”), who is the con-woman supreme, but may not be quite as cunning as Lawrence’s Rosalyn Rosenfeld. Anxieties aside, between Roz and Sydney, Irving is a pretty good argument for canceling your Crunch membership.

Things go swimmingly until Irv and Edith get busted by an ambitious Fed named Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who instead of prosecuting involves them in an elaborate scheme to entrap local officials, a congressman and, with any luck, the entire Mafia. While the intricacies of the plot are fascinating, other factors steal the show: Russell’s direction -- which suggests Preston Sturges mating with Sidney Lumet -- Linus Sandgren’s period-grainy, gritty, almost nicotine-stained cinematography. And the acting: Cooper’s late-‘70s-era De Niro impersonation (De Niro himself shows up later) is just one of the many, many refs to American cinema -- in bygone, good-riddance-to-it fashion -- that informs a movie in which the corruption seems innocent. 

Bale is a wonder, and has never seemed seedier; Adams is tart, has never seemed sexier, and Lawrence will get an Oscar nom for supporting actress. On that you can bet your lava lamp and collection of disco on 8-track. It seems blasphemous to say it, but “12 Years a Slave” suddenly has some competition in the awards sweepstakes.


  • Brian | December 13, 2013 2:58 PMReply

    What does Ted Cruz have to do with Rob Ford or with 70s-style corruption for that matter? You may not like his politics, but that doesn't give you the right to smear him like that.

  • Sheilene | December 4, 2013 6:36 PMReply

    Overrated movie for silly stupid critics buy every movie of overrated david o russell. What pathetic critics are in America.

  • Candy | December 4, 2013 2:09 PMReply

    Well some of us will go see the movie just because Jennifer Lawrence is in it, so thanks for the review.

  • M as in EM | December 4, 2013 2:00 PMReply

    Great review!!...can't wait to see this film and woohoo, Jennifer Lawrence!!...get that THIRD Oscar nomination, girl!!.

  • Angela | December 4, 2013 12:49 PMReply

    I thought Jeremy Renner and Louis CK were in this movie too? Maybe not, I must have missed that this was a Jennifer Lawrence movie. I've already seen The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, so thanks for letting me know I can skip this movie.

  • Shoes | December 5, 2013 6:56 PM

    Wow, I've never heard just an outright blunt comment on Jennifer Lawrence. I don't see why many people hate her

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