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Article by Teddy Durgin

American Hustle: The Next American Masterpiece?

"American Hustle" is another terrific film that is based on real events, specifically the Abscam scandal of the late 1970s and early '80s in which the FBI went to aggressive lengths to ensnare some corrupt Capitol Hill legislators and other politicians. And director and co-screenwriter David O. Russell sets the tone early on with an opening title card that reads: "Some of this actually happened." Perfect! That's the perfect way to get any detractors looking for historical accuracy to unclench their collective posteriors and enjoy this sprawling, broadly played instant classic. Christian Bale and Amy Adams play Irving and Sydney, a couple of master con artists who get nabbed by an ambitious FBI agent named Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who strong-arms them into using their crooked talents to work for the Feds in bringing down a New Jersey Mayor (Jeremy Renner) with ties to both crooked D.C. lawmakers and the East Coast mob. The film mines a tremendous amount of comedy from these four personalities who each become studies in deception and self-deception as they try and do the right things by doing all of the wrong things. A lot of reviewers have likened this to a Martin Scorsese film, specifically "GoodFellas." The comparisons are legitimate. But the film also shares DNA with "Boogie Nights" and "Argo," too, along with everything from "Kojak," "Baretta," and every other now-cheesy, but then-serious cop and crook drama. Now, there is a very fine line between rip-off and homage. "American Hustle" gets it just right due to an ensemble cast that is just endlessly fascinating to watch, working in their fake comb-overs, perms, beards and heating-iron curls as character tics. I love that all of the actors were allowed to go off the rails here, and Russell had enough faith and trust in them that they would eventually come back to the picture. Bale is really good in this. At first, it's like he's channeling Tom Cruise's Les Grossman character from "Tropic Thunder." And maybe he is. But even though Irving is a complete scoundrel... God help me, I rooted for this guy to get out of the jam he was in! Cooper, meanwhile, kills in a "wind-'em-up and let-him-go" performance of a little man trying to become a big man and tortured by momentary lapses where he realizes how far out of his depth he really is. But the real standout here is Jennifer Lawrence. Wow, what a performance! She plays Irving's spectacularly manipulative wife. And she is just a ball of fury throughout, twisting every argument and situation around to her own advantage... even when nearly burning down her own house. There is a scene here where she goes completely scooters and scream-sings Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" that should be made into some kind of angry therapy video. In the end, you could make the argument that the film doesn't leave the viewer with much in terms of a message or even a point. But this isn't a message movie. Its point is to flat-out entertain and put you into these characters' polyester. I think "American Hustle" is an American masterpiece.

"American Hustle" is rated R for pervasive language, sexual content and some violence.

 

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