REVIEW: ‘American Hustle’ is Punk Rock Scorsese

Sexy People F*cking, The Movie

David O. Russell’s career seems to have evolved from off-beat genre benders like Spanking the Monkey and I Heart Huckabees to twisted genre boners, like Silver Linings Playbook and now American Hustle. If Silver Linings Playbook seemed like Russell’s attempt to make a decent movie while handicapping himself with every crappy rom-com and indie dramedy cliché in the trope book, and still pulling it off, like a guy shooting pool blindfolded, now we have American Hustle, a movie that feels like David O. Russell putting Scorsese on his bedroom boombox, cranking the volume to 11, and skanking around his room knocking stuff off shelves. Russell does with Goodfellas-era Scorsese what punk rock did with early I IV V rock n’ roll, plays it loud and fast and sloppy to the point where it juuust verges on obnoxiousness, highlighting the essence of what was appealing about it in the first place.

Subtlety? F*ck subtlety. Here’s two hours of beautiful people seducing each other on cocaine.

American Hustle (the title is by far the weakest part – can we let “American ____” go yet?) is all about seduction and screwing, literally and figuratively. Christian Bale plays a con man in the enviable position of being married to Jennifer Lawrence while keeping Amy Adams as his sidepiece. The very first scene is Christian Bale gluing on his toupee and fixing his combover with an extended shot of his fat belly, in case you were worried “CHRISTIAN BALE TRANSFORMS!” wouldn’t be a selling point. It has so been done, and it is so much fun to watch again. We get a voice-over assisted flashback of how Christian met Amy, just like Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco in Goodfellas, shot with every ounce of Scorsese’s visual panache. American Hustle‘s cinematography is the visual equivalent of the imaginary food in Hook, like scooping bowls of frosting into your eyes with a giant spoon. Pure sex and sumptuous decadence and allllmost being able to see Amy Adams’ tits, yum yum yum.

Adams plays Bale’s partner in con, a former stripper who puts on a fake accent to make people think she has banking connections in London. It’s always a neat trick making an amazing actress play a character who’s a mediocre actress (as opposed to the reverse, which Cameron Diaz has spent a career trying to pull off). Whereas Scorsese tends to be meticulous in explaining exactly how all the pieces of his plots fit together, David O. Russell plays it a bit fast and loose, like your mom, only sort of half explaining how Bale and Adams’ scams actually work. They’re explained just well enough that you believe it when they screw. It fits with the rest of the film’s fast, punky aesthetic. Hell, American Hustle even begins with a title card that says “SOME OF THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED.” David O. Russell knows he doesn’t have to hit all the notes to make a power chord, just bang the important ones really loud.

Bale and Adams eventually get caught up in a stingy net by FBI agent Richie DiMaso, played by Bradley Cooper in curlers, who pulls off meathead Italian much better than he pulled off bipolar guy in a trashbag jacket in Silver Linings. Only it turns out DiMaso doesn’t want to throw Bale and Adams in jail. He wants to use them to create more cons, to catch bigger fish, like beloved Atlantic City mayor Carmine Polito, played by Jeremy Renner in a fabulous pompadour. From there, it’s pretty much everyone trying to seduce everyone else so they can screw them, only to get in too deep and end up getting seduced by the person they were trying to screw. B-Coops wants to screw Amy Adams, Amy Adams wants to screw B-Coops, Christian Bale wants to screw Jeremy Renner, and Jeremy Renner wants to screw a fake Arab Sheikh. Meanwhile, you just want to sit back and watch everyone screw. They’re all so sexy! If Killing Them Softly (to name just one) was about how politics and crime and capitalism are all intertwined, American Hustle is about politics and crime and SEX SEX SEX.

Jennifer Lawrence plays that old Scorsese standby, that otherwise minor character who threatens to ruin everything. Remember Lois from Goodfellas and her stupid hat? Or the deli guy in Casino who bitches all day, not knowing he’s been bugged? She’s like that (with a healthy dollop of Sharon Stone in Casino). The crazy thing is that it feels like Lawrence’s part was written for someone 10 years older, but she acts the shit out of it so hard that you just sit back in awe of her. She’s about to crack a tooth chomping scenery, almost on the verge of breaking character, all while seducing you so thoroughly that you feel like she’s about to lick the camera lens. Clearly, David O. Russell was as taken with her as we are.

This movie. It’s just one long sexing. Every scene builds to a massive crescendo of ensemble farce, one area where David O. Russell’s natural ability surpasses Scorsese, a skill he’s had going all the way back to Flirting with Disaster. No one is better at shooting a scene where EVERYONE ENDS UP SHOUTING AT EACH OTHER that pushes right to the edge of ridiculous. The scenes between coked up Cooper and his put upon supervisor played by Louis CK are some of the funniest I’ve seen this year.

If David O. Russell’s earlier movies sometimes felt like an attempt to create layered, Kid A-style concept albums, American Hustle feels more like him onstage at the Silverdome, banging out the loudest open chord he can and hip thrusting at the audience while they scream. I’m fine with that. In fact, here, have my panties.


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