Director: David O. Russell
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Jack Huston, Michael Peña, Robert DeNiro
Sometimes it is the most random choices and tidbits that catch my eye that lead me to believe I will really love the movie. The use of the vintage Columbia Pictures studio logo and the phrase “Some of this actually happened” hit just the right spot even though I am sure most people will gloss right over them. I do not know too many folks that take an interest in studio logos. While Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) runs a chain of drying cleaning stores and a glass business, his real income comes as a con-artist selling forged artwork to prospective dealers. At a pool party he meets Sydney Prosser (Adams), a former stripper looking to reinvent herself. She is impressed and turned on by his confidence, not by his horrible comb-over and gut. She decides to join him in his con schemes by posing as the British “Lady Edith Greensley”. Their new work partnership turns into a budding romance despite the fact that he is still married to Rosalyn (Lawrence) and has a son with her.
Irving’s side business skyrockets with the help of Sydney, aka “Lady Edith”. Their illegal work becomes the target of FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper). After their arrest for fraud and impersonation, he offers them a deal for their freedom in exchange for their help in arresting four other con artists on their most wanted list. They all get in a bit over their head with their attempt at bringing down New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito (Renner) who is looking for extra funds to rebuild Atlantic City full of casinos. Polito’s connections to the mafia make it difficult for their attempt at trapping him.
Director David O. Russell is known for being far more concerned about the characters than the actual plot. After watching American Hustle, that is quite evident. Russell also co-wrote the screenplay with Eric Singer and their characters are what stand out over any portion of the plot. Make sure to pay attention to the various character voice-overs as Russell and Singer use that device to explain side characters that pop up and connect the dots for the audience as to what is happening in the scheme. Their characters are over-the-top with their big personalities and the specific look for each one of them. Russell makes it quite clear how important each of these characters are. He spends his opening scene with Bale turning his messy hair into the perfect comb-over. Cooper is scene in hair curlers waiting for his perm to set. The whole design aesthetic is showy and obvious, but works for their approach to this story.
Russell and Singer have given their actors great material to work with and are catered toward the actors playing them. Bale and Adams both worked for Russell in The Fighter, while Cooper and Lawrence shined in his Silver Linings Playbook. Bale and Lawrence have both won the coveted Oscar for their work under his direction. Could any of these four receive some Oscar gold this time around? Lawrence has the biggest chance due to her category. She is as fierce and funny as always with a character we have not seen her play before. She makes it look so effortless as her New Jersey housewife is executed flawlessly. Apparently she has been watching “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” as research to go between sassy, fierce, dim-witted, and crazy. Lawrence may be getting all of the buzz for the movie, but Amy Adams has been given the role of her career. We normally see her in supporting roles, but she is able to come front and center here as Bale’s counterpart. Even though she works all the time, she now has a role that knows how to use her in a new light. There are so many different angles and dimensions as she has to morph between Sydney/Lady Edith and how she really is living a lie to herself. It is the meatiest and edgiest performance we have seen from her. I still stand that she should have won the Oscar for The Fighter over Melissa Leo. Lawrence and Adams have a big cat fight in the bathroom and is one of the best scenes in the film. Christian Bale proves yet again why he is one of the best actors working today. He is one hell of a chameleon. Some may object to his Method style approach to his characters, but I applaud it as it always seems to work for him. Yes, that is his real hair and gut as he gained quite a bit of weight for his role. Call me crazy, but there are times where I thought Bale was channeling his inner DeNiro. Some of his mannerisms and gestures were very reminiscent as if he was playing the DeNiro type of character here. Coincidentally, DeNiro has a cameo sized role here which seems like an homage to the DeNiro characters we have seen in the past. He is even given the funny glasses and goofy hair like everyone else has been given to amply their character’s looks.
David O. Russell’s latest offering is a one hell of a fun ride. The story is loosely based on the ABSCAM operation in the 1970s and 1980s. He has taken more of a comedic angle to telling this story over say a dark, gritty, or violent nature. The characters are all these larger than life caricatures instead of being realistic approaches to their real life counterparts. I for one have no problem with his approach. If you are expecting something different, you may be thrown off. Russell makes good use out of using the music of the times as it is prominently featured throughout the movie. Elton John, The Bee Gees, and Paul McCartney are just some of the artists cranked to full volume to drive home the era. If you can go along for the ride and try not to compare it to other films or directors, you are bound to have a fun and exciting time. It made my Top 10 of the year!
RATING: ***** (5 out of 5 stars)