At the Movies: American Hustle

January 18th, 2014 14 Comments

American Hustle



The Screen Actors’ Guild picks members at random to vote on their awards. Darleen was picked to be one of the judges this year, so we’ve been getting DVDs of all the movies in the running for an award or multiple awards. The other night we watched American Hustle.


Without going too far and giving too much away, American Hustle is about a couple of sleazy, low-level grifters (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) who get caught up in an FBI-orchestrated sting operation that snowballs wildly out of control. Since the key to any con operation is maintaining control, the plot turns on who is actually controlling whom, and as the sting moves up the ladder of culpability from a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner) to members of the United States congress and a United States Senator, and finally to the murderous head of a Mafia family (Robert DeNiro), the stakes and the danger rise exponentially. While I have made this sound like an edge of the seat nail-biter—and in fact after about the first ten minutes you could have set fire to my chair and I wouldn’t have left—it is also, in places, outrageously funny.


That is the basic plot, with the emphasis on basic because there are so many sub-plots and twists and turns and reverses and convolutions that every time you begin to grasp who’s doing what to whom, it all changes and your jaw slides down to your bedroom slippers. I came away congratulating myself on being infinitely more mature than any of the childishly self-centered, self-deluding, self-aggrandizing characters, and shaking my head sadly because I will never be smart enough to ever dream up anything one tenth as convoluted as their scheme(s).


So, a fabulous plot, a great script, magnificently directed by David O. Russell (who co-wrote it along with Eric Singer); what more could anyone possibly want?


Actually, the real reason to see this movie is for the performances, especially the extraordinary Christian Bale and Amy Adams. For a variety of reasons I missed much of the last ten years, so in spite of his steady stream of work, my experience of Christian Bale was limited to Batman: the Dark Knight, which I despised from soup to nuts; the remake of 3:10 to Yuma, which I enjoyed, though not as much as the original; and his bravura, unpredictable performance in The Fighter. In fact, I am so out of it that I thought he was an American; he is actually Welsh and, according to Darleen, has a thick accent. I spent the first fifteen minutes of American Hustle earnestly telling Darleen that she was wrong, that this balding, paunchy, nerdy, sad-sack couldn’t possibly be the glamorous Christian Bale. And it’s not just his physical transformation: he has the extraordinary capacity for inhabiting a character that only a few of the very greatest actors ever achieve. (Alec Guinness leaps to mind, followed by Albert Finney, Daniel Day Lewis, Ralph Fiennes, a few others.)


And Amy Adams! Lord have mercy. I had seen her in The Fighter and Julie and Julia, and thought she was very gifted, but that was clearly a grotesque underestimation of her talent. There is one scene that takes place in the stall of the lady’s room at Studio 54 that made every hair on my body “stand an end, like quills upon the fretful porpentine.” Her shifting alliances make her the wildest of the many wild cards in this intricate house of cards, and I found myself thinking that if anyone might survive, or possibly even come out on top, it would be her. (Whether she does or not, I shan’t say; you’ll just have to see the movie and find out.)


With Bradley Cooper as the most conceited and arrogant FBI agent you have ever seen (the shot of him with his hair in curlers is almost enough to justify seeing the movie by itself), and Jennifer Lawrence playing Christian Bale’s wife—the girl so dumb she actually thinks she’s smart—and a host of other vain, venal, self-absorbed characters, the movie makes you want to never trust anyone again. But it makes you want to watch it again and again.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I think you are suppose to keep the fact that Darleen is one of the judges a secret. You are lucky to get to watch all of the nominated films. Isn’t “American Hustle” based on a true story? I think it is. I will admit I have not seen any of the movies that are up for Academy awards this year. Not one. My husband and I did see “Saving Mr. Banks” which was not nominated.That movie left us with tears in our eyes. If Jennifer Lawrence wins she will be the youngest actress to win two Oscars. I was surprised that Emma Thompson was not nominated for playing P.L. Travers the women who wrote Mary Poppins. If I where to guess I think that the movie “Twelve years a Slave” will win best picture.

    In real life Christian Bale does speak with an accent. We saw the movie “The Dark Knight Rises” and we actually liked it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I always enjoy your movie reviews. Please review anything else you viewed in preparation for SAG voting. Have you seen Dallas Buyers Club yet?

    • Anonymous says:

      I would be interested to see that movie especially because Matthew Mcconaughey won the Golden Globe.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think he will win an Oscar for it. It was a solid performance by both Matthew and Jared Leto and they both lost quite a bit of weight for their parts. I think that the transformations they made are the main reason the Academy will reward them both. That’s just my opinion. I would love to see Leo win for The Wolf of Wallstreet. The movies not for everyone, but he was funny and tragically flawed at the same time. It was a brilliant performance. Check out Dallas Buyers Club and see what you think.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I saw that the movie “American Hustle” won the SAG award for best outstanding performance bay a cast in a motion picture. I guess this improves the movie chances of winning best picture at the Oscars.

    Also, Rita Moreno won the SAG 50th annual Life time Achievement award.,0,6232770.story#axzz2qtgK42Xd

    I thought that was amazing and you do have a connection there because of the TV movie you were in with here.

  4. Anonymous says:

    After your comments about Christian Bale and Bradly Cooper I had to take a closer look at some of the photos for the movie. You are right Christian Bale is totally unrecognizable. I am pretty sure that Bradly Cooper has a perm or an Afro in those pictures. Maybe they should give an award just for the hair, but I guess that would go under the Make-up category.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I enjoy your movie reviews as well. I had already seen “American Hustle” and thoroughly enjoyed it. My first experience (that I recall) with Christian Bale was “The Fighter” and I too had difficulty reconciling him as the same person. Talk about literally disappearing into a role! In “The Fighter” his Boston accent was so convincing I confused myself into thinking he was a local.

    Based on one of your earlier reviews I saw “Prisoners.” That movie produced a lot of questions/discussions afterward…and if the moviemaker’s goal is to get people talking, then they were very successful. I read on-line (afterward) that they had filmed an alternate ending but that test audiences preferred the one they went with.

    While I suspect you have not seen any of “The Hunger Game” movies I urge you to read the books. They are written for teenagers and initially DO NOT sound appealing at all. I procrastinated for quite a while and thought I might not get past the first few pages as science fiction/fantasy is not a genre I typically enjoy. I don’t possess the literary vocabulary to accurately describe all the writing techniques Suzanne Collins incorporated, but she tells a tale that is riveting, horrifying, inspiring and hopeful. I know her intention was to provide a context for American teens to gain an understanding of war and the effects of war. She did an amazing job.


  6. Anonymous says:

    Speaking of hair I do remember that a long time ago I had a perm done on my hair. That was really a bad idea. My hair looked awful. The only think worse then the perm was when my hair starting growing out. I looked like a cross between the Bride of Frankenstein, Marge Simpson (the cartoon) and a french poodle. The things women will try on their hair in order to look better is ridiculous.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Hello JP,

    first of all congratulations to Darleen!
    Well…. I found it hard to comment a comment of a movie I haven´t watched, yet. And although I know I can rely on your recommendations I looked up the internet and read other critics
    (sorry !!! ; ) ).
    I never knew there was something like an “Award Season”…. 😉 !
    But what I found was absolutely amazing and it all sounded like this is a really outstanding movie. In the light of that some say comedies are more difficult to do than anything else my respect for the actors rises a lot. I don´t know if that´s true but I can imagine it requires an even more extremely accurate timing.
    You said you despise “Batman” and I must confess that I can do very well without this sort of movie either in equal measure as my husband unfortunately enjoys it. But on the other hand we all have to earn our living and so I don´t despise the contributing actors. You said yourself you did some movies you prefer to forget about.
    You were amazed by Christian Bale´s unexpected acting skills. I was amazed vice versa when I saw Robert Downing, jr. whose performances I´ve always admired in “Iron Man”.
    He may have had his reasons…..

    Thank you very much for the review!

    Best wishes


    • Anonymous says:

      Hello JP,

      sorry, I see I wrote nonsense. Did I really write Downing instead of Downey…?
      How embarrassing…. You must think I´m a sublime idiot…..!!!!
      Stop grinning 😉


      • Anonymous says:

        I like Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man too and I also liked him in the Sherlock Holmes movies. There was a part in the Avengers movie were he is poking Mark Rufflo (The Hulk) to annoy him. I got the feeling that part was not in the script.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Two comments:

    I enjoyed your review. But why, oh why wasn’t Amy Adams nominated for a SAG award? Her performance was fantastic in American Hustle.

    I would like to have seen Tom Hanks in your selection of actors who “have extraordinary capacity to inhabit a character”. His portrayal of Captain Philips is perfection. What a long list of outstanding performances he’s given us.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Are you going to do a movie review of the movies that you watch for the nomination process? If you are it would be interesting to see what you think of the rest of the movies nominated.

  10. Anonymous says:

    In 2011 Christian Bale won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the “Fighter” and when you hear his speech you will indeed realize that he is Welch. I thought that he was British or Irish at first.

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