Many moviegoers had to sit back and thumb-twiddle until December to see their most anticipated movies of the year. While a full slate of late releases kept us interested (Anchorman 2, Out of the Furnace, the new Hobbit, Grudge Match, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, etc), two movies have loomed mighty on the horizon. American Hustle from David O’Russell and The Wolf of Wall Street by the legendary Martin Scorsese (the undisputed favorite here at FB/BS) forced us to wait like kids eyeing the mystery box under the Christmas tree. Maybe it’s the tiring onslaught of action movies hitting over the summer and autumn, whether they be superhero (Thor, Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, The Wolverine, Kick Ass 2), apocalyptic/sci-fi (The Hunger Games, Elysium, Pacific Rim, Star Trek, After Earth), or the more standard hits like Fast and the Furious 6 (6!), We know, we know, every year we feast on the (often slapped-together) action flicks in the hot months and savor the more well rounded films later in the year. That’s how the game of Hollywood works. No matter how we got here, we couldn’t wait to unwrap the presents O’Russell and Scorsese brought.
David O’Russell hasn’t quite hit “household name” status yet, although his movies certainly have. The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook collected 15 Academy Award nominations with three wins, all in acting categories. O’Russell brings back the stars of his previous films including Christian Bale and Amy Adams (both from The Fighter), Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro (all star in Silver Linings Playbook). All five of these actors and actresses received nominations for their work with O’Russell. Jeremy Renner joins the group to finish off an impressive cast featuring many more familiar faces (even Louis C.K.).
These previous films deal in a more limited focus that Hustle. Each shines a focus intensely on the relationship between two people, and the close relationships revolving off these central characters. Hustle plays out a much more complicated story with more involved characters, each with greater individual involvement. After an opening that reveals the future tensions between Bale, Adams and Cooper, we flip back to the childhood of Irving Rosenfeld (Bale). Irving adopts the life of a con man to buoy his father’s struggling business, and eventually makes a living running cons. Amy Adams, as Sydney Prosser, grew up with a similar “do whatever it takes to survive” ideology and is Irving’s kindred spirit. The pair fall in love and collaborate as a con artist duo before hitting two snags. The first is Irving’s marriage to Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence) and her son whom Irving adopted. The second is the overly ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper), who busts the pair and forces them to run cons for the FBI (think White Collar). From here the plot extends as the cons grow. Their web entangles more and more people reaching Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), the Mayor of Camden, NJ and mobster Victor Tellegio. What’s remarkable about this movie is that it takes time to flesh out its characters and plot points. It’s somewhat sad that we have to tip our caps to a movie that takes the time to expand and elaborate on its characters and establish a thorough/logical/enticing story-line but Hustle accomplishes all these marks, no matter how standard this feat has become.
The acting in this film is phenomenal and the work put in by all actors can not be praised enough. Each and every character is believable, even minor ones. Louis C.K is in the movie for all of 15 minutes (including lines over the phone) but he dials in a hilarious performance. Bale delivers characteristically solid work, worthy of a Best Actor nod, and convincingly depicts Irving as a man with all the angles covered who loses control and becomes increasingly desperate. We could go on about each performer; Cooper, playing the glory-hungry and short tempered FBI agent; Adams, the enigmatic con artist; or Lawrence, as wild and unpredictable as she seems to be in real life, but we don’t have the time or space.
American Hustle may be the movie that lofts O’Russell to “household name status.” He certainly deserves it, and should already be known to anyone who follows movies and their making. At this point, without peering into the field too much, we would be surprised if the film doesn’t earn a handful of nominations including best picture and nominations for Bale, Cooper and Adams (depending on what categories they fall into). Hustle was certainly worth the wait but we actually were shockingly upset at how good the final product ended up. We had hoped that The Wolf of Wall Street would be the final savior for Leonardo DiCaprio at the Oscars and allow Scorsese to pick up his second Best Director award (his second earned win, but not second deserved). Hustle, along with 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, The Dallas Buyers Club and others will certainly put up a fight in March, but that leaves us only more excited for our final December film. Without a doubt, it will be worth the wait.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 94% (Differential +0.5%)
Where to see it: Theaters, only so you don’t have to wait any longer to see it.
Loose ends with semi-spoilers:
While in the theater, I sensed a strong Goodfellas vibe. The two movies share many similarities. Both deal with criminals and police fighting to stay one step ahead of each other. The characters do “whatever it takes” to survive but still live by their own morality. Both use an imperfect central character (Bale and Liotta) who collaborates with the police and betrays those that trust them (the nature of the betrayal is very different in each). Bale and Liotta both narrate the films, are married, have girlfriends, run several schemes and cons at once, and get in over their heads. They also deal with temperamental and unstable characters in their inner circles (Rosalyn and Tommy DeVito). The movies both have fast-talking dialogue, popular music seamlessly blended into the action (not clunky like The Great Gatsby), and illustrate the criminal underworld. Both deal with the mob and both have a mobster De Niro. And both are very good. I’m not saying American Hustle and Goodfellas are equally great, but they are similar on first glance. This comparison only adds to our excitement for the March Academy Awards as O’Russell takes on The Wolf of Wall Street with a movie that is very much like one of Scorsese’s ultimate triumphs.
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