American Hustle is fascinating and funny
I can be impressed with the caliber of some of the films I get to see and talk about, sometimes not so much. This film impressed me not because of the story, but the characters. The story, while based on actual events, was not the primary focus, nor was it exceptionally entertaining, which sounds unusual and risky. It was risky, fortunately an extraordinary and dynamic cast managed to pull it off beautifully. I’ll get to the cast later.
Dramatic comedies are by far my favorite sub-genre of film. The comedic elements tend to be rawer and real, even the most contrived gags retain an element of truth. If used correctly the results are not only fascinatingly hilarious, but also poignant and even touching. That is exactly what American Hustle achieved. A hilarious caricature of tragic anti-heroes that are so compelling the plot doesn’t even matter.
American Hustle is a fictionalized account of the FBI ABSCAM operation from the late 70’s. The characters in the film are based on real individuals, but the caricatures are exaggerated such that they may as well be pure fiction.
Together they are enormously successful until FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) busts them and ropes them into his own plans. He plans to use them to create an operation to take down as many big fish as they can catch. His methods infuriate his supervisor Stoddard Thorsen (Louis C.K.), endanger lives, and ensnare corrupt and no so corrupt politicians, such as Camden mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). In addition to keeping the operation from falling apart, Irving is trying to keep his wife, Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence), from falling apart and ruining everything. When they try to entangle mob enforcer, Victor Tellegio (Robert De Niro) things get ugly.
The plot in this movie is convoluted. It can be at times a little difficult to follow. If the characters were not so absolutely stunning, I doubt any audience would tolerate such a wildly meandering story. I’m not convinced I successfully followed all the events that took place on screen. At the end, as I sat through the credits I reflected on the story. I kept feeling like I missed something. Either I fell asleep for a few moments, or some plot points were buried. Given my insomnia, and that I was enjoying the film, I am fairly sure I did not nod off.
The film was largely improvised. At least that is what I have read. I’ve seen many films that have attempted to improvise either completely, or partially. Few are extremely successful. While I am not sure of how much was improvised and what was scripted, I am inclined to believe more was improve than scripted. That fact definitely contributed to the weak and convoluted plot, but it also contributed to the genuinely fascinating characters. The performances in this respect were all marvelous.
No one actor or pair of actors carried the show, everyone had moments, and everyone had laughs, a lot of laughs. If I had to pick two actors that stole every scene they were in, it would be Louis C.K. and Jennifer Lawrence. If you are the one making me pick, you just forced me to make some pretty tough choices, so let me explain. Louis C.K. is, if you don’t know, a brilliant comic. His role in this film was not a stretch for him, so it didn’t require stepping very far outside his own personality, but he did. His was not the best performance in the film, just one of my favorites, and I still think he stole scenes he was in, with maybe few exceptions.
Jennifer Lawrence just stole the show every time she showed up. She is naturally a very charismatic individual, and she didn’t tone that down at all in this role. Her performance had excellent, not perfect, comedic timing. She is my new favorite neglectful and manipulative mother, with a predisposition to setting things on fire. It will also be a long time before I can listen to Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die without laughing.
Now if you are done making me pick actors out of a terrific cast, all of whom deserve equal praise, I can heap accolades on the rest of the cast. Bradley Cooper pays his character with so much enthusiasm I was afraid for the other actors in his path of destruction. It was glorious to watch a performance so unhinged and singularly focused. I can’t think of a character in recent memory that I find more unsympathetic, and simultaneously enjoy so thoroughly. It really was a glorious contradiction.
Christian Bale acted so hard he herniated two discs in his back. I didn’t even know that was possible. He is growing into one of the leading chameleon actors in the industry. His dedication to the party drove him to shave half his head to give himself the most epic comb over I have ever seen. Bale also gained 40 pounds, willingly. Those things don’t really tell anyone anything about his performance, but really highlights an impressive level of dedication to his craft. His performance was about as flawless as it can get.
Amy Adams, who I previously regarded as an enjoyable but unremarkable actor, surprised the hell of me. I can only assume I was not paying adequate attention to her past performances to have made such an impressive oversight. Her performance was multi-layered and dynamic. Her motivations were not only hidden from the other characters in the film, they were hidden from the audience. She was the only character to remain as mysterious in the end, as she was in the beginning. I’m still not sure which accent actually belongs to her.
American Hustle deserves 10 out of 10, but because of the problems with the plot, I can only go as high as 9.5. Go see this movie.