There’s something so sweet about the art of the con.
About a decade ago, I was a tourist in post-Katrina New Orleans. The Big Easy was still getting to its feet and it showed. The buildings in the French Quarter were pock marked from weather. Homeless people lined the streets. There was a vibe of defiant stagnation in the air. They weren’t going to let go of what made the city great, but they had precious little resources to truly rebuild. And there, I got taken.
It was only for twenty bucks from a shoe shine scam and she didn’t even get it. A stick skinny townie, all smiles and slick talk, poorly polished my Nikes without me asking. Just stood there dumb as she cracked jokes and laid it on thick. At the end, she demanded “10 and 10” and when I walked away, she screamed after me about her pimp in hiding. How I’d get my ass beat.
Nobody ever emerged but I was shaking. She didn’t get my money but she damaged my pride. My sense of self awareness. How did I allow her to swindle me so effectively? And in all my self loathing for being another dumb tourist, I respected her. Hustling is an art and she wielded her rap like a blinding paint brush. It wasn’t her fault I was a patsy. She was just trying to survive.
The latest film from director David O Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) captures that central criminal drive in a film full of humor, drama and infectious energy. American Hustle isn’t just another con artist movie. It’s an affirmation of will, trussed up in seventies suits, fantastic characters and a convoluted caper. And it all works damn near perfectly.
Featuring much of the cast from Silver Linings Playbook, the story focuses on Irving (Christian Bale) and Sydney (Amy Adams), a pair of two bit chiselers who con clients into phony investments. As the old adage goes, if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t and the twosome carves a nice living bilking investors out of their cash. A fool and his money are soon parted. But when they’re caught in the act by the FBI, they are forced to team up with Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) and reel in the big fish of organized crime.
In a word, the cast is across the board electric. Bale, Cooper and Adams have a natural chemistry which makes the unlikely alliance feel genuine, even when it looks ready to fall apart. The supporting cast also rocks featuring Jeremy Renner as an idealistic Jersey politician and Louie CK as an FBI head trying to do things by the book. Jennifer Lawrence in particular is sensational as Irving’s wife Roslyn. An emotional huckster, Lawrence fills the screen with equal parts empathy and comedy. In the role, Lawrence proves she’s not only one of the finest actresses working today, she has exceptional range. The award nomination wheelbarrow may once again be trundled to her doorstep.
While the cast is great, they have wondrous material to work with. The dynamite screenplay, penned by Russell and Eric Warren Singer, should get serious consideration for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar. Every player in the picture is well drawn and full of interesting quirks. The most impressive aspect is how you never know who is conning who until the very end. The conclusion may wrap a little too tidy for my liking, but with characters this interesting and real, it’s nice to know how everything shakes out.
Of course, the devil is in the details and American Hustle gets the little things right as well. The costuming is spot on, the soundtrack is fantastic and even the mannerisms of the New York / New Jersey inhabitants ring authentic. It was a shame seeing this in Texas as nobody got the many mentions of Camden and the rehabilitation of Atlantic City. Let’s face it. I’m a sucker for a good local reference.
Minor knocks include a hefty 138 minute runtime that feels longer and the spiraling nature of the plot sometimes gets lost in the great performances. All tradeoffs I was willing to make. American Hustle isn’t just shoo-in for my Top 10 of 2013 list, it’s one of the best gritty crime flicks since Tarantino’s criminally underrated Jackie Brown. Much like the Louisiana trickster who almost snagged a twenty from a dumbfounded Tucker, the characters of American Hustle are trying to keep afloat any way they know how. It’s capitalism personified and award nomination machine David O Russell captures the vibe with the careful eye of a true Hollywood auteur. Don’t be afraid of being taken by the great trailers and glowing reviews. American Hustle is the real deal.
Score : 9.5/10
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Jersey born, New York based and Austin bound, Bill Tucker is a writer of short fiction, film reviews and articles across a variety of media. He currently writes bi-monthly reviews for Pantheon Magazine and his micro fiction story, K, was recently accepted for publication in Solarcide’s flash fiction compilation, Flash Me. When not writing, he works as an IT Trainer for a fashion software company. Check out more of his work atwww.thesurrealityproject.com.