Saturday, March 1, 2014

American Hustle (2013)

American Hustle
This is the first movie I've seen from director David O. Russell and the final 2013 film I watched in a theater. American Hustle begins with the disclaimer "some of these things happened." I thought this was a good idea since it allows the film to use the true events (Abscam) as a starting point and tell the story in the most interesting way possible. I don't have a problem with films based on historical events doing this, as long as they state it up front like American Hustle. Most films based on true stories make changes anyway so it was nice to see a film, about con men no less, be honest about it. Plus this encourages people to find out more about the real people and events, which is always a good thing.

The acting was great all around from the four leads to the supporting cast. Comedian Louis C.K. only has a minor role but steals every scene he is in. There's a fantastic surprise cameo which I didn't know about coming into the movie. I won't spoil it so you'll have to watch the film to find out who it is! There are a good amount of main characters but I thought they were all handled well, not just in regard to acting but also with the writing and their roles in the story. Jeremy Renner was fantastic as Mayor Carmine Polito and deserved an Oscar nomination even though he didn't get as much screen time as Christan Bale or Bradley Cooper. American Hustle became only the 15th film to score Oscar nominations in all four acting categories. Check out my post on the 86th Academy Awards for my thoughts on how American Hustle fared at the Oscars.

When I first saw the trailer for American Hustle I was very interested in the film but thought it looked like the characters were playing 1970s dress-up. While the clothes and hairstyles of the main characters are over the top, even for the period, it's there to hammer home the themes of the film. These con artists are affiliated with government agents in exchange for their freedom, but still must make use of fakery and deception, often on multiple levels and in several different ways.
I was talking to somebody about the film and they mentioned "the villain." I stopped to think for a moment then asked who they thought the villain was because I didn't think this movie had one. The person viewed Bradley Cooper's character, Richie DiMaso, as the bad guy but I didn't see it that way. DiMaso is a government agent who doesn't have a great life and tries to turn nabbing a pair of con artists (Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams respectively) into improving his career and living a glamorous life. DiMaso is blinded by the pursuit of these goals as he is willing to stoop to entrapment to bust politicians, even honest ones. DiMaso's work with the con men is a form of escapism as he gets to leave his world (he lives with his shrill mother and has a fiancée only to make her happy) to work with the con artists. We see how eager DiMaso is when he keeps trying to skip to the climax of his boss's ice fishing story and therefore never gets to hear how it ends. DiMaso thinks he can hang with the big boys and take down anyone, con man, politician, or gangster. However, DiMaso may not have the amount of control he thinks he has over these convicted con artists and finds himself way out of his league. Since Irving and Sydney are our protagonists I guess DiMaso could be considered an antagonist, but he is on their side for most of the film.

Russell's directing is very good and there is also some nice cinematography, such as the dry cleaning scenes. While watching American Hustle I could definitely see the influences of Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. I could also hear the influences since like many Scorsese and Tarantino films, American Hustle has an awesome soundtrack! If there was an Oscar for best soundtrack made of up previously recorded songs American Hustle would easily win that category with its mix of great 70s songs from different genres such as pop, rock, R&B, and disco.
Just before the movie began I looked around the theater and noticed the audience was a full house and made up mostly of senior citizens. American Hustle had already been out about a month so the packed house was a bit of a surprise, though to be fair this was around the time the Oscar nominations were announced. I expected the audience to be older, especially with a late afternoon showing, but not mostly made up of people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. Most of these people were older than I am now back when this movie takes place!
American Hustle has a running time of 138 minutes and while watching the film it felt even longer. I mean this in a good way though since I was never bored and always interested in what would happen to the characters. American Hustle seems like it would hold up on multiple viewings and I look forward to watching it again.

Fun Facts:
Before American Hustle, the last film to receive Oscar nominations in all four categories was David O. Russell's movie from the previous year, Silver Linings Playbook. But before Silver Linings Playbook this hadn't happened since Reds (1981). Besides American Hustle, the only films to have been nominated in all Oscar categories but not win any are Sunset Boulevard (1950) and My Man Godfrey (1936). None of these films won Best Picture either, with My Man Godfrey not even being nominated in that category.

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