Dry, arch comedy with a straight face.
The basic story in this movie is relatively straightforward…a couple of con artists (Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld and Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser) are nabbed by an ambitious F.B.I. Agent (Bradley Cooper as Richie DiMaso) who promises not to charge either of them so long as they can help him catch bigger criminals by using their skills as con artists. Irving and Sydney agree to this…Irving’s wife Rosalyn (played by Jennifer Lawrence) isn’t really privy to all of Irving’s activities…illegal or adulterous. The start of the movie informs the viewer that “some” of the movie is based on actual events. Presumably accuracy hasn’t been kept at the expense of good fun.
During the movie I frequently laughed out loud as the situation went from bad to worse for Irving and Sydney, or the stupidity of Rosalyn later in the movie (Lawrence shows a talent for character based comedy in this movie). Despite this humour, the movie did strike me as being a dialogue driven piece…a wall of dialogue. It’s also 138 minutes long…putting those two things together, it was quite demanding of your attention, perhaps at the expense of just providing pure entertainment. It’s not exactly intellectually taxing, just demanding of your attention. Even though I don’t usually watch movies again, the thought of watching this movie again due to its demanding nature made me think that I wouldn’t want to do that again in a hurry. I’d have to wait a decade, maybe. The way the characters relate to eachother perhaps has a ‘Brooklyn’ vibe to it. Maybe some people might find that taxing too.
A way that the movie attempts to keep you intrigued is by making you question the motives of the various players…are Irving and Sydney using each other? What is real? Where does the con begin and end? Who’s conning whom? This may provide pleasure for some as a viewing experience.
Can’t say that I knew how to interpret this movie…initially I missed the introduction explaining that it was partly based on a true story. Without that knowledge, I was wondering whether the movie was a comment on the Hollywood factory (e.g. Bale putting on the bat costume, pretending to be a superhero as a kind of con) or a metaphor for the American dream…in the guise of reinventing oneself to reach higher…if that is indeed the American dream…I’m Australian…I don’t know these things. If the latter, maybe that has something in common with the novel “The great Gatsby”, which is regarded as a classic in America and has also been turned into a movie…multiple times. Would still be inclined to think that on some level this movie is ‘saying something’ about the American experience, beyond merely fictionalising a true story.
Another thing that struck me was how often the look of the characters reminded me of other people in movies or tv or real life. E.g. when I caught the start of the movie, with Irving elaborately doing his hair, I was reminded of Tom Cruise in “Tropic thunder”, I think it was; Jeremy Renner as Carmine Polito reminded me of a young Liberace perhaps…or that kind of Teddy Boy look…if that is the right phrase; Louis C.K. as Stoddard Thorsen reminded me of Bill Bailey (the English comedian); one guy kind of reminded me of a young Michael Douglas; there’s one mob guy who kind of had a George Clooney in “O brother, where art thou?” look to him (that I don’t remember these character’s names just reflects on how demanding of your attention this movie is); Bradley Cooper in one scene (or two) reminds me of Kevin Kline’s turn in “A fish called Wanda”. Sort of related, perhaps Bale channels Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in his performance at times. Jennifer Lawrence sort of reminded me of Renée Zellweger in her looks at times…but maybe that’s just me?
Speaking of self-referential moments…I got the feeling that a member of the crew had the same surname as the lawyer who appears in the end of the movie…something like “Tellegio”…if that is the case, perhaps it’s a sort of in-joke or something? Maybe there’s more of that too?
There is some good 1970s music etc. in this movie but it’s not quite in the same league as “Boogie nights” on that front, which was stacked with the kind of songs I love from that era.
“American hustle” is a true ensemble work and I suppose in a year in which no particular movie or performance has screamed “Award!” to me, the extra yards Christian Bale has put in to perform his role (putting on a lot of weight, by the looks of it…assuming it’s not a fat suit), he’d be as worth a winner of a Best Actor award as anyone else. In other movies of his I’ve seen it occurred to me that he was often overshadowed by minor characters in star vehicles for him, like The Dark Knight (Heath Ledger’s brilliant turn as the Joker) and Terminator: Salvation (Sam Worthington’s character Marcus Wright was more interesting than John Connor). It’s perhaps ironic that Bale may win an Oscar in a movie/character which isn’t a ‘star vehicle’ for him. Unlike Batman, Irving is an interesting character…more filling and nutritious, acting chops wise than the caped crusader.
One last thing…the ending…I did wonder if the film took a morally dubious stance on the targets DiMaso was chasing…i.e. not sure that I share those sentiments.