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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Feb 7, 2014

Review: American Hustle - Great Acting For This Possible Oscar Best Pic Winner

DAVID O. RUSSELL has been directing since 1987 but it was only in 2010 that he hit it big with “The Fighter”, which won Oscar best supporting awards for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. In 2012, Jennifer Lawrence won the Oscar best actress award for his “Silver Linings Playbook”. Now, all his main stars in “American Hustle” are nominated in the acting categories and some of them might just win, with the film itself possibly bagging the best picture trophy.

Co-written with Eric Singer, Russell’s new film is set in 70s and is about con artists, based on the Abscam sting operation in the late 70s where a con artist helps the FBI jail some politicians who took bribes. The film indicates at the start that “Some of this actually happened.” We are then introduced to Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld, owner of dry cleaners in New York who makes more money selling fake art and being a loan shark. If Bale lost so much weight to be thin in “The Machinist”, he now gains so much weight to look fat for his role as the balding Rosenfeld.

He then meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams, who was also with him in “The Fighter”). Like him, she loves the music of Duke Ellington. And she’s also a con artist who pretends to be a British dame called Lady Edith Greensly with banking connections. They quickly become partners in love and in crime, even if Rosenfeld is married to Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

They’re both nabbed by an ambitious FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who’s eager to make a big corruption bust. Richie forces them to join him and help in a sting operation called Abscam involving a New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) who wants to rebuild Atlantic City, some corrupt congressmen, the mob and some actors who pretend to be filthy rich Arab sheiks.

The movie is thrilling to watch because you’re never sure what’s going to happen next as everyone is trying to deceive everyone. Some of the biggest deceptions are personal, like Amy Adams pretending to fall in love with Bradley Cooper and the viewers, along with Christian Bale, are left wondering if she really did fall for him.

This caper film is reminiscent of Martin Scorcese’s past films, notably ‘Goodfellas’ and “Casino”, particularly in the throbbing camera work and in the use of popular songs to score some key moments, like Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work” when Irving and company succeed in walking away with loads of cash and Donna Summer songs for the disco scenes. But Russell surpasses Scorcese with his own brand of lunacy, making “American Hustle” even more enjoyable than Scorcese’s own entry this year, “Wolf of Wall St.”, which is also about a huckster.

Russell also elicits exceptional performances from his actors with their shameless schemes, especially Jennifer Lawrence who succeeds to be somewhat endearing even while acting up a storm as Rosenfeld’s needy, screwball and suspicious wife who sets their kitchen on fire every now and then. You should watch out for her in that scene where she dances around in a cocktail dress and rubber gloves while singing “Live and Let Die”. We won’t be surprised if she’d make history as the actress who won Oscar best actress one year then wins again the as best supporting actress the next year, courtesy of the same director.

Christian Bale is almost unrecognizable as the pot-bellied hustler with a toupee. Amy Adams delivers one hell of a portrayal while sashaying in a series of cleavage-displaying costumes. Cooper hits all the right notes as the hot-tempered FBI agent who curls his hair and is willing to skip all codes of decency just to make a name for himself in arresting crooks. The irony of it is that his foremost target, Jeremy Renner, is actually the most honest person in the movie. He maybe on the take but he seriously wants to rehabilitate Atlantic City. What they didn’t expect is that how Rosalyn could botch their entrapment operation after Mayor Polito’s Mafia friend, Victor Tellegio (Robert de Niro), becomes suspicious of the whole thing.

The often hilarious film is quite amoral and doesn’t judge the characters for their insatiable greed or ambition. In exposing their quirks and foibles, it’s essentially a somewhat sympathetic character study of how low and depraved people will go in search of what they perceive to be a better life. The film is greatly enhanced by the splendid production design showing the period’s outrageous fashion and hairstyles, making it totally entertaining from beginning to end.