Tuesday, December 31, 2013

American Hustle Review

American Hustle Review
I know I have mentioned this before and I know I'll mention it again, but star charisma has lots of power. One or two great performances can carry a film the whole way, I have seen done before, on many occasions. The right combination of stars, or the right direction of a particular star can push a film from good to great. Yet, for me, sometimes that just is not enough. I need to know what these actors are doing has some sort of meaning, I don't want them to just go with the motions. There are also times when an actor's performance elevates material and makes it more noticeable. That is always a good thing too.

Director David O. Russell has proven over the years how good he is with his actors. He got Christian Bale and Amy Adams to do wonderful things in 2010's "The Fighter," and he got Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence to do wonderful things in last years "The Silver Linings Playbook." Now in 2013, he has combined Bale, Adams, Cooper and Lawrence, and he's added Jeremy Renner in "American Hustle." The story of an FBI Agent (Cooper) recruiting two con artists (Bale, Adams) to expose the corruption of a New Jersey mayor (Renner). It feels like territory we have been in before, so what did Russell do differently?

Well, for starters, he got all of his actors to let loose and chew up the scenery. This is some of the very best acting from any of these actors. Amy Adams in particular is on fire in this movie, and if she gets nominated for an Oscar for the millionth time next year, she better win. She's never been this fearless, this controlled, this calculated ever in her career. Oh, and she manages to create a British accent that is beyond believable. Bale shows us once again how he puts "method" in "method acting." He completely disappears into his role as sports a unique hairdo and gains 40 pounds. Lawrence has been a huge hot streak lately, and I can only hope that remains through 2014 as well. Cooper and Renner are also both very good in this film, and deserve credit for their work.

Not only are our leads in complete control, but Russell hires a wonderful cast of supporting actors to compliment the leads. Shea Whigam, who is continually becoming one of my favorite supporting actors, disappears in his role quite like Bale does and delivers every second he's on screen. Louis C.K. as Cooper's boss has many funny scenes, yet offers a sincere performance. I would also keep a look out for a great cameo by Robert De Niro. Yes, De Niro is in this movie. Yes, he plays a Mafia Don and yes, he kills it. It's really good work from everybody all around.

Another thing David O. Russell does is just tell a fun story well. There are plenty of funny moments, as well as moments that you'll find clever. You can tell by the trailers that "American Hustle" is sleek and slick, but there is also a good story at the center of all the coolness. At first, it comes off like just another con-man movie, then we see a sentimental path the film takes that I found surprising. Everything leads to an ending I did not see coming. I love how Russell was able to play with the genre without ever sacrificing story and development in the process.

"American Hustle" is a movie to check out, no doubt about it. Every actor is on-top of their game in this movie. But the great performances are just icing on the cake, and the cake underneath the icing in this case is quite great too. I think audiences will find something to love and something to identify with as they leave the theater on this one. Just like any great movie should.

FINAL GRADE: A

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