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American Hustle

USA 2013
produced by
Megan Ellison, Jonathan Gordon, Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Matthew Budman (executive), Bradley Cooper (executive), George Parra (executive), Eriuc Warren Singer (executive) for Atlas Entertainment, Annapurna Pictures/Columbia
directed by David O. Russell
starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Louis C.K., Jack Huston, Michael Pena, Shea Whigham, Alessandro Nivola, Elisabeth Röhm, Paul Herman, Said Taghmaoui, Matthew Russell, Thomas Matthews, Adrian Martinez, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Camp, Steve Gagliastro, Chris Trahan, Zachariah Supka, Christy Scott Cashman, Simon Hamlin, Martie Barylick, Dawn Olivieri, Becki Dennis, Jay Giannone, Arthur Birnbaum, Rob DiNinni, Michael Fennimore, Jack Jones, Danny Corbo, Sonny Corbo, Bo Cleary, Greg Maxwell, Mickey O'Keefe, Aaron Flanders, Erica McDermott, Alura Carbrey, Kayla Feeney, Shannon Halliday, Volieda Webb, Patsy Meck, Abby Lavin
written by Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell, music by Danny Elfman

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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For years, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) was a small-fry conman who knows about every trick in the book but also knows how important it is to stay small. One day, he meets Sidney (Amy Adams), falls in love with her, and eventually he tells her about his operations and takes her on board - and she proves to be a great asset, much better in charming people into handing her and Irving their money than he could ever hope to be. Soon their businesses flourish - until they're shut down by the FBI. But Richie (Bradley Cooper), who runs the investigations against them, makes them an offer: If they help him con some politicians into taking bribes, they get off scot-free. Irving doesn't like it, feeling it's too big a game they're playing with too many variables to succeed, but it's not as if he and Sidney had much choice.

The politician Richie targets is mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), a "good guy"-politician actually who is loved by his constituency, and who was never suspected of any bribery at all. Again, Irving doesn't like it, in fact not even Richie's boss Stoddard (Louis C.K.) likes it, but Richie has a powerful D.A. (Alessandro Nivola) behind him who wants nothing more than publicity, so the project is pushed through, and before you know it, Irving is hard at work convincing Carmine to - with the backing of a made up sheik - rebuild Atlantic City, with all the necessary gambling licences in place and all. Over the cause of all this, Irving and his wife (Jennifer Lawrence) become good friends with Carmine and family - much to the dismay of Sidney, who really loves Irving (and he loves her back), to a degree that she starts an affair with none other than Richie.

Things get a little out of hand when Carmine brings in a powerful mob boss, Tellegio (Robert De Niro), but Irving does his best to stay on top of everything. However, Richie blows the thing up more and more, and it starts to slip out of Irving's hands - especially when his wife starts an affair with one of Tellegio's henchmen (Jack Huston) and gives away some of Irving's trade secrets ... and suddenly, Irving has the whole mob against him ...

Irving arranges a meeting between Richie and Tellegio's lawyer to clear things up, but that operation requires 2 million Dollars of FBI-money. The meeting seems to be the crowning achievement in Richie's operation, as it leads to the arrest of many a politician and congressman - but then it turns out the FBI money has gone missing and Tellegio's lawyer was a phony ... and Richie has been set up by Irving, but in such a way he can't get Irving for anything without endangering his whole operation but good - and suddenly he's the biggest loser of the game.

Irving and Sidney come out of all of this relatively unharmed. Sure, his wife divorces him, but with Sidney at his side, that's not really a bad thing. The only thing, the way he tricked Carmine whom he considered his friend bugs him to no end, and he and Sidney decide to walk the straight and narrow from now on.

 

First and foremost, American Hustle is fun to watch: A great ensemble cast set against a nicely achieved 1970's background make it easy to follow through the movie's slightly over-convoluted narrative and many plottwists. And the directorial effort, clearly inspired by Martin Scorsese (though never achieving his depth), is light-footed enough to make everything very accessible. The film however is not without its downsides: On closer inspection, the characters all feel a bit empty and their actions often lack motivation, and sometimes the film loses itself in its own complexity and refuses to make perfect sense.

But that's more an of an afterthought than anything else, as long as you watch it, American Hustle is basically good fun!

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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