Review by Mark Wiechman
Stars: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams,
Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner
Director: David O. Russell
Audio: DTS HD 7.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 138 minutes plus features
Release Date: March 18, 2014
“I was broke, fearless, with nothing to lose. And my dream, more than anything, was to become anyone other than who I was.”
While American Hustle won the Golden Globe for Best Picture, and was originally a front-runner for the 2014 Oscars with ten nominations, its popularity peaked much too soon and iwas completely shut out of the Academy Awards despite ten nominations. This is a fun movie for movie lovers who want more interesting, believable characters and unexpected plot twists. It is like Pulp Fiction in that it is so well-done and acted that is refreshing but Hustle has more character development and less graphic violence. It is also less cartoonish that the excellent Boogie Nights. It is based on a true story of small-time hustlers who are caught, then are forced to help the FBI catch bigger fish. The ending is satisfying but not what you might expect. The ‘bad’ guys largely get away with it, while many others are caught in the net. In the end some of the good guys get hustled themselves. That is really the theme of the movie, who is fooling whom, and how often do we fool ourselves?
I admit that the movie grabbed me immediately because I am a 1970’s junkie. After getting a glimpse into the FBI sting, the three protagonists waltz slo-mo into a meeting to the tune of Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work” then soon afterward we see how how Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Adams) met, with a close up on the lovely face of Amy Adams just as the chorus of Chicago’s “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” kicks in. Then they bond while discussing their favorite Duke Ellington tunes. Eventually Sydney begins helping Irving with his dry cleaner businesses, being the more detail-oriented of the two. They become romantically involved, and both want to be anyone but themselves. Sydney is a former exotic dancer who is smart enough to be a secretary at Cosmopolitan magazine but wants much more. They both feel stuck in the small time. Their romance seems very real and is portrayed in an honest, old-fashioned way that we don’t see very often anymore. Who knew a dry cleaning store could be romantic?
Eventually they start a new scam accepting large fees to try securing loans for desperate customers. In reality, no loans ever happen and they pocket the fee. The authorities close in with Special Agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) in the lead. He promises lesser charges in return for the hustlers helping him catch bigger fish, and the story becomes interesting and frightening when it moves from ensnaring Mayor Carmine Polito (Renner) to the mafia.. Jennifer Lawrence plays Irving’s completely insane wife Rosalyn, who is probably the best hustler of the bunch. Irving calls her “the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate.” . Our heroes are in real danger and Rosalyn is a totally loose cannon who says the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong time. Amy Adams sizzles from beginning to end, especially with Bradley Cooper, but when she confronts her lover’s wife Rosalyn, you expect them to literally tear each other apart. Adams was completely robbed of the Oscar in my opinion, nothing against the other wonderful nominees. The anguish of the families watching their loved ones being marched off to jail, knowing their lives will never be the same, is palpable. Somehow, director David Russell gets us to buy the story completely, even as we watch them fool each other and themselves.
As in real life hustles and scams fall apart and even the law enforcement operation goes awry. It is shocking to see special agent DiMaso assault his own supervisor with a rotary phone. Insane, just insane, and I loved every minute of it. Just as in real life, sometimes people get away with hustling, but they always pay a price somewhere along the way, and these characters shine through their internal contradictions.
The colors of the made-from-scratch costumes and the glow of the discoteque shine in this Blu-Ray release. The whole production seems very real, as though you could touch the velvet jackest. Dark scenes have no splotchiness or other issues.
If you want to hear a soundtrack that will stay in your head for days, look no further...this uncompressed surround mix is filled with great tunes from the period and is reason enough to recommend the audio. Dynamic range is strong throughout, and spoken words are delivered cleanly against the mix.
In the brief but very good feature on the making of the movie, Amy Adams points out that everyone in the film is actually trying to make each other better, but they go about it all wrong. That is very accurate. And we learn that apparently many of the actors committed to the movie before the screenplay was even done, which is amazing. Jennifer Lawrence also points out that the characters in David O. Russell’s films are unpredictable all along, which made it fun for everyone involved.
The extended and deleted scenes are humorous and scary at the same time, showing vulnerability in many of the characters, such as when Sydney can’t cry with a British accent. He is tender with her even as she curses him. This is partly why disc releases are so important, because while movies are often trimmed and scenes cut for the sake of time, they are usually worth a look.
I was hoping for more features, but the ones included are very valuable.
I don’t think I am fooling anyone by saying this is the best movie I have seen in many years, and I hope more viewers give it a chance with the home video release.