Archive for January, 2014

28th January
written by Mad Cow

Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence

Mad Cow’s rating:

This smart movie with an all-star cast indeed exemplifies the essence of America’s love affair with the art of the grift. But with a twist. We have a combined grifter movie with a delightful bungling criminal movie, complete with a bungling FBI agent, mostly taking place in New Jersey, a character all by itself. The movie is based loosely on the real FBI ABSCAM stings in the late 1970s, early 1980s. As it says at the beginning “Some of this actually happened.” In real life careers were ruined and some people went to jail, but the American people had mixed feelings about it.

The film was directed by David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, Three Kings, The Fighter) and written by Russell and Eric Warren Singer. It was nominated for 10 Oscars and 7 Golden Globes, winning three Golden Globes for Best Picture in Comedy or Musical, best actress in comedy or musical (Amy Adams) and best actress in supporting role (Jennifer Lawrence). Literally all of the major roles were written by Russell specifically for the actors who played them. Christian Bale gained 40 pounds for the role, meanwhile herniating two disks due to the weight gain and his slouch as Rosenfeld.

Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale – The Dark Knight Rises, The Prestige, American Psycho) believes that everyone is out to be a con of some sort and his goal in life is to become good at it. He falls in love with Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams – Her, Trouble with the Curve, Enchanted, The Master), an American former stripper who poses as a Brit named “Lady Edith.” They set out to make beautiful music together. Enter Ritchie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper – Silver Linings Playbook, The Hangover, Limitless), an FBI agent on to them who gives them a way out via trapping politicians in the act of bribery. A couple of triangles emerge. One involves Irving, Sydney, and Irving’s wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone, Silver Linings Playbook, The Hunger Games). There’s also a rivalry between Irving and Ritchie over Sydney.

The movie is smart and funny with lots of juicy dialogue. Loads of things happen, at times making one dizzy but it’s best to go with the flow. The movie is something like Woody Allen meets the Coen Brothers but without the violence of the latter. It’s right up there with Burn After Reading (Coens), American Beauty (Sam Mendes), and Midnight in Paris (Allen).

I may be shortchanging Russell and Singer, but there were times when I wished the Coens had made this movie, in places where the edge was a little off. The film was reportedly actor-improvised in parts and maybe sometimes the spontaneity didn’t work. Ironically, we sense this when Robert DeNiro (uncredited in the film) appears in a cameo as big boss Victor Tellegio. DeNiro’s robust and relaxed delivery lights up the screen in a way that casts a kind of shadow over the others. But nevertheless the movie as a whole is true to the title and very American, like a grimy American used car lot office full of earnest people who are just trying to get ahead.

Soon Camden New Jersey’s Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner – The Hurt Locker, The Bourne Legacy, The Avengers) becomes the target of a sting involving a “sheik” who wants to help him modernize a casino in Atlantic City. Irving and Carmine, a real deal politician with a heart of gold, bond in a way that throws Irving into a crisis of conscience. Carmine, is actually devoted to improving the state of New Jersey. Renner was perfect as Carmine, displaying a stunning ability as a comic. Meanwhile as Rosenfeld wrestles with his scruples, DiMasio tries to get more and more props, such as a jet plane, from his boss, Louis C.K, whose performance as a skeptical superior is also sterling.

Had I been awarding the Golden Globes (They never do call me), I would not have chosen Amy Adams for her role in Hustle. She’s an amazing actress but in this I think she was either mis-cast or mis-directed. She’s too pretty and too straight even while she plays a crook. Her seductive moves toward Irving and Ritchie don’t quite measure up. But the crowd she’s with make up for her shortcomings and she and Lawrence have a smashing scene together.

The actress who is over-the-top terrific is Jennifer Lawrence. She studied Housewives of New Jersey to prepare for the role. She is cagey, smart and stupid all at the same time. Most of her lines are memorable, particularly “Thank god for me.” (I’d love to explain this one but am avoiding the spoilers.) She sports self-confidence and a kind of wisdom. In a surprisingly moving confrontation with Sydney in a ladies room, she says “Sometimes, all you have in life are f-d up, poisonous choices.” Like all of the best comedies and especially movies about “working class” people, all of the characters command respect and compassion. No one is the “butt” of a joke.

My Oscar “picks” will emerge in a later column but I can say now that for overall appeal and not necessarily the most important or best acted, Hustle will be hard to beat.

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