At the Movie with Alan Gekko: American Hustle “2013”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Crime/ Stars: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Jack Huston, Michael Peña, Elisabeth Röhm, Shea Whigham, Alessandro Nivola, Paul Herman, Saïd Taghmaoui, Adrian Martinez, Colleen Camp, Dawn Olivieri, Erica McDermott, Robert De Niro/ Runtime: 138 minutes

For as long as there has been a species upon this Earth known as man, I feel there is also an equally as old saying that goes something along the lines of “integrity, when in doubt, is usually the best way of going about things” (or something to that effect). Yet for as long as that phrase has been around, I honestly feel that in the world of cinema it has never been more true than in the narrative that can be found within 2013’s American Hustle, a film from unique helmer David O. Russell which deals with a pair of swindlers being pushed to complete their most riveting con game yet following their apprehension by the Feds and given the choice of either helping them catch bigger crooks than them or enjoying some time in prison. Suffice it to say that from there we see cons of varying sizes, corruption on an intriguing scale, plenty of emotional moments ensue. Yet even after taking these ingredients into account, it is definitely worth noting that this distinct slice of cinematic pie is one that also functions just as much as an in-depth character analysis that helps to shed a light on how driven people, be they cop or criminal, can truly become to say nothing of that huge gray area in the middle that is more often than not the genuine intersection of dispute between these two sides as they find themselves coming into contact with the dragging force that manages to showcase to both parties to where the other is headed. Thus when you combine that with a riveting narrative, a top-notch cast, wonderful work behind the camera, and an undercurrent comprised of an often darkly comedic tempo then what you have truly is one of the year 2013’s more appealing from a visual perspective, satisfying from a pathos perspective, and just outright engaging movies.

The plot is as follows: American Hustle tells us the story of a man by the name of Irving “Irv” Rosenfield. Mr. Rosenfield, we soon learn through the power of both sight and the delightful phenomenon known as voice over, is a fluffy, bald-spot hiding, yet extremely endowed with confidence lifer in the school of art known as Con Artistry 101 who, when our story opens, finds himself gaining a partner in his con games in the form of a brilliant and talented woman by the name of Sydney Prosser. A woman who, during their con games, is able to transform herself into an upper class British expat by the name of Edith Greensly. Of course it should also come as no surprise to learn that this dynamic duo is also very much involved on a personal level as well much to the irate fury of Irving’s impulsive and quite volcanic wife Rosalyn. Things soon take an unexpected turn for everyone though when, what seems like another day in paradise, Irving and Sydney’s mark unexpectedly turns out to be an undercover Fed by the name of Richie DiMaso who coerces our duo into working with him on a high-stakes “con” of sorts which Richie hopes will help him nab some of the more on the take politicians in this country with the first man on the list being a man by the name of Carmine Polito who also happens to be Mayor of Camden, New Jersey. Yet as our intrepid trio find themselves sinking ever further into the primordial ooze and the “game” they’re playing becomes more involved, costly, and perilous than they could have ever thought possible, the stakes start getting a little too high for comfort and soon the only thing more perilous than the situation that they are a part of might just be the extremely toxic relationships that they have with each other….

Now this is a film that is known so much for how it is brilliantly able to merge both its superficial visual work and the themes at the heart of its narrative so well that this synchronicity is perhaps the main ingredient of the film. Yet it is also worth pointing out that this is a film which is also able to showcase a realistic and also sort of funny look at the era it is set in from the style to the locales whilst having enough intelligent to never put too much emphasis on these things and instead choosing to construct everything else especially the cast of characters that populate and interact in said world instead. Yet it is also within the world of the movie where we see the film engage in an intriguing dichotomy courtesy of a conman being pushed to do what he does best, but not as he normally would like to do so with an end result that is both predictable and unpredictable due to not only the narrative going wildly out of whack in the best way possible, but also because those who are involved find the path they are on getting increasingly perilous and risky due to a wide variety of circumstances: some beyond their control and others that could’ve easily been preventable. Suffice it to say this is a movie that is both gorgeously anarchy yet also steady and on the level thus making this a truly riveting piece of movie magic that, despite being a tad bloated following the incredible opening, is able to keep a tempo, novelty, and just general draw that makes this film distinct from the vast majority of films out in the world.

Yet when you decide to investigate beyond the aforementioned synchronicity, you will discover that there is also a tad bit darker and much more intense from a psychological perspective saga to be found here revolving around the perils of ambition and drive on both sides of the law as well as the conflict in a person between their passions and what truly is just and unjust. Indeed here is a movie which goes into just how a person can tinker with life, how life can tinker with his or her desires, and how those desires truly can come back to either benefit you or give you a firm kick up the backside. In addition, it’s also a saga about lower-scale wheeling and dealing of a less than legal nature and how they can go wildly too far and place it on a parallel track with several people whose own operations and desires all become an absolute mess that doesn’t just change the playing field, but rather completely annihilates it by the conclusion of the movie. Thus we see that throughout the duration of the film’s runtime, we see that it is quite capable of going in-depth on a fair bit of immersive thematic concepts which are affected throughout the film. Suffice it to say then that the beauty of a movie like this comes courtesy of not only how simple it is to investigate and be grateful the aforementioned thematic concepts, but also how easy it is to get enwrapped in the narrative and superficial ingredients on display. Thus this is one movie which manages to be a riveting posterchild for just how effective multilayered filmmaking can be when it is simultaneously immersive, fun, and quite insightful all at once.

At the core of everything however is a top-notch line up of characters and talent who are most definitely up to snuff in not only bringing these characters vividly to life, but also in making them feel less like characters and more like actual, three-dimensional human beings. Of course the performance that is this film’s crème de la crème so to speak would have to go to Christian Bale in what is one of the more truly astonishing physical makeovers and performances since his riveting effort in 2004’s The Machinist. Indeed while it is not quite on the level of haunting as that role was, the man behind the cowl in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is still not recognizable due to being both at least 50-55 pounds heavier than last we saw him in The Dark Knight Rises as well as having a really horrendous comb over with a cheap toupee on the side. Yet what Irving is lacking looks he more than makes up for in assertiveness, and it is worth noting that the assertiveness with which Bale uses for this character to say nothing of the charisma that is on full display nearly every moment he is on screen is truly remarkable. Indeed it really is phenomenal work from every possible angle that you can think of. Indeed although Bale didn’t take home Oscar gold for his role, it still is worth noting just how top-notch this role really is for one the more intriguing chameleons working in the world of movie magic today. Backing up Bale, and rounding out the main quartet of the film, we also get truly phenomenal work from Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner. Indeed Cooper here is truly remarkable because it really does feel like a call back to when he played the arrogant hothead in 2005’s Wedding Crashers, but if that guy got back up after being slugged by Vince Vaughn and became a Fed just so he could (under the veil of legality) continue to make people’s lives a living nightmare, Adams is truly dazzling in a role that although an enigma for a lot of the film is one that we learn is supposed to be for reasons I shan’t spoil here, Renner manages to show that he can do more than just make quips and shoot a bow and arrow alongside The Avengers though in all fairness this is a guy that was easily one of my favorite parts of Ben Affleck’s 2010 The Town and he got his fair share of heavy material in that so make of that what you will, and Jennifer Lawrence manages to bring just the right amounts of venom, volcanic fury, but also just the right degree of humanity to her co-starring role of Rosalyn. Suffice it to say then that our Fab 4 and the support cast backing them up, including Michael Pena and Louis CK, all manage to realize the kind of film they’re in and bring their A-game and then some.

All in all I can easily say with 100% confidence dear reader that when released all the way back in the year 2013, American Hustle was most certainly not the finest film that the year had chosen to give us be it on paper or at the Oscars when ballots were opened, names called, and awards awarded to those lucky enough to receive them. Yet at the same time, I think it should also be pointed out that this was also easily one of the more fulfilling slices of cinematic pie that the year 2013 chose to give movie goers to both digest and be satisfied with in equal measure. A fact that becomes a whole lot more credible when you make the choice to actually kick back, relax, and watch this movie and in the process uncover that this movie is a novelty in how it is able to be simultaneously both jolly yet also quite heavy while also coming package and parcel with a group of truly three-dimensional characters and quite immersive themes constructed on top of a lively period cover. To that end, I feel that you will either enjoy this as either a well-designed and immensely engaging and rivetingly entertaining time waster or as a more intriguing character analysis. No matter what though, I can guarantee that at the end of the day American Hustle is a truly phenomenal viewing experience and one of the must-see films from the year 2013. On a scale of 1-5 I give American Hustle a solid 4 out of 5.