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Things I Learned at the First Screening of David O. Russell's 'American Hustle' (VIDEO)

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 25, 2013 at 1:09PM

David O. Russell's "American Hustle" screened for the first time November 24, followed by a Q & A. Anne Thompson gives the skinny on this much-anticipated awards contender.
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Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams in "American Hustle"
Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams in "American Hustle"

Amy Adams came up with the idea of having Jennifer Lawrence give her a big smack on the lips in the scene pictured above, Adams revealed at a Q & A following the first industry screening on the Sony lot of David O. Russell's "American Hustle" on November 24. "I don't know why, maybe I just wanted to kiss Jennifer," said Adams. "She's so cute...I'm fearful. I'll do anything with a lot of thought, I'll throw myself in there. She is fearless, it's really cool to be in that company. She's a remarkable woman at 22." (For evidence, not only check out the "Silver Linings Playbook" Oscar-winner's box office record-breaker "Hunger Games: Catching Fire," but her face-off with Jon Stewart, below.) 

"So often a chemical fight has a sexuality in it," added Russell. "It was a toxic idea in a toxic exchange. It was Jennifer's toxic good-bye." 

Judging by how the ambitious period comedy loosely inspired by the Abscam scandal (which most resembles the Newman/Redford pairing "The Sting," which took home Best Picture in 1974) played in a room full of Screen Actors Guild members and a smattering of press, "American Hustle" is a rousing crowdpleaser with populist appeal--and plays great for actors. It showcases the strengths and weaknesses of writer-director Russell's filmmaking technique. He creates colorful characters with his actors, structuring loose boundaries of a story around them and letting them wing their way through it as he goads them on, tracked by multiple cameras in a 360 environment. 

'American Hustle'
'American Hustle'

Jeremy Renner, who ricocheted between playing the film's lead con artist role-- when Bale briefly dropped out --and sincere New Jersey politician Carmine Polito, who is trying to rebuild Atlantic City by any means necessary, found working with Russell exhilarating--and exhausting, as new pages would be slipped under his door. "It's work," he said. "We as actors are empowered to help David tell the story." Added Adams, "It requires you to use parts of your brain that you never had to use before. It's constant discovery. You have to be so lubricated (laughing)---like an engine." 

Sony also gathered the film's veteran casting director Mary Vernieu (who deferred to her long-time director in this public setting, as key crew almost always do); television actress Elizabeth Rohm (who felt liberated by Russell's method), "Silver Linings Playbook" editor Jay Cassidy (who admitted that he has become accustomed, after working with Sean Penn, to having actors such as Bradley Cooper in the editing room); and costume designer Michael Wilkinson (who had a blast with the garish outfits while trying to stay authentic to the late-70s period setting).  

Another tidbit revealed at this Q & A: After Russell discovered Louis C.K. because of "The Fighter" Oscar-winner Melissa Leo's Emmy-winning star turn on the show, he cast him as straight-man foil to Bradley Cooper's hard-driving FBI agent Richie DiMaso. The results are hilarious.

American Hustle

In a competitive year, it will be fascinating to see how this raucous, free-wheeling, careening comedy fares with critics and Oscar voters. It's so audaciously entertaining that audiences should flock to it. Commercial, unpredictable and sexy, the movie should exceed "Silver Linings"' $227-million worldwide gross. Who cares about awards? Already Twitter is lighting up with talk of scene-stealer Jennifer Lawrence for supporting actress. That nomination will likely happen. 

But don't count out shape-shifter Bale, who lost weight in his Oscar-winning supporting role in Russell's "The Fighter," and gained 50 pounds this time to play wily dry cleaner, art forger and lone shark Irving Rosenfeld. He adores his lover and con-artist muse/partner Sydney Prosser (Adams) and hates himself for still wanting to fuck Rosalyn, his manipulative suburban wife (Lawrence). 

Bale makes you not only believe Irving (whose elaborate comb-over is a work of art) but love him in this role. And Adams moves through many levels of fakery and authenticity along with her British alter-ego, Edith. (While Russell calls Cooper's performance as an in-your-face out-of-control FBI agent "transformative," it's also cringe-inducing.) If "American Hustle" isn't an awards home run on the order of "Silver Linings," it's certainly a triple, and the industry needs more risky, daring, fun, excessive tight-rope walks like this one. 

Remember, while Sony picked up "American Hustle" early on--as they did "Zero Dark Thirty"--Annapurna's Megan Ellison also paid for this baby, along with another must-see movie still to come this holiday season, Spike Jonze's "Her." Thanks, Megan.  


This article is related to: News, David O. Russell, David O. Russell, American Hustle, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner, Awards, Awards Season Roundup, Awards


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Thompson on Hollywood

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.