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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘American Hustle’ gains positive critical attention

Published: January 17, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.

As the awards show season begins, many new films are receiving particular attention, including “12 Years a Slave,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Her.” But one movie proving to be a force to be reckoned with is David O. Russell’s “American Hustle,” starring Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and the ever-popular Jennifer Lawrence.

The film is a crime comedy-drama set in the late 1970s and early 1980s that tells the story of two con artists, Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Adams), who form a relationship and have to set up and execute an elaborate operation by order of an FBI agent (Cooper) to catch politicians who participate in illegal activities. Jennifer Lawrence plays the role of Irving’s impulsive and uncontrollable wife who causes hiccups in their operation just when things seem to be going smoothly. Jeremy Renner plays the mayor of Camden, New Jersey, one of the corrupt politicians the FBI is trying to catch. He forms a friendship with Bale’s character, causing Bale’s character to feel conflicted about his secret actions against his friend. The relationships between the characters are dynamic and drama-inducing, as Adams’ character rotates between involvement with Bale’s character and Cooper’s character, and Lawrence’s character acts as an added obstacle.

“American Hustle” has met rave reviews and earned the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes. Adams also earned the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy and Lawrence earned the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture—Drama, Musical or Comedy.

The film certainly is deserving of said praise. For a movie over two hours long, Russell did an excellent job moving the plot along smoothly and quickly, even with a lack of rousing action. His use of character development and side stories centered on the relationships between the characters kept the audience interested during times when the central plot became too dry or boring. Russell also did an excellent job of simplifying the difficult concept of corrupt politics and American law enforcement so that a wide range of audiences can leave the movie feeling that they understood a plot that many other movies complicate and fail at explaining properly.

This easy-to-grasp quality that the film possesses is aided by the strong performances of each actor and actress. Bale, who is almost unrecognizable due to his pot belly, facial hair and hairpiece that he sports in the film, does an excellent job of portraying his character as a con artist who isn’t all that bad. He has feelings and dreams and conflicts, and Bale’s subtle display of these features allows for a complex and sympathetic character. Cooper, whose performances in other movies such as “Silver Linings Playbook” seem overplayed and unexciting, portrays the endless ambition to win that his character possesses remarkably well. His desperation and passion are balanced to portray his character’s personality but avoid overacting. Adams’ win at the Golden Globe was well deserved, as her portrayal of a woman who is tormented and confused as well as strong and feisty might just be her best performance to date. Her character doesn’t come off as being hard to understand regardless of the complexity of her situation, which makes it easy for audiences to like and root for her.

Jennifer Lawrence’s performance was equally impressive; she is able to portray a woman who causes nothing but trouble and is insane in a humorous way, but at the same time, she is a sympathetic character as well. Whether she deserved the award for Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Globes is, however, debatable. Although she gives an incredible performance (as always, it seems), she doesn’t show anything new to prove that she’s growing as an actress. Her character in this movie is quite similar to the character she plays and won the Academy Award for in “Silver Linings Playbook”—impulsive, complex, tormented, misunderstood and somewhat ridiculous in her dialogue and actions. She performs amazingly in both movies, but it would be nice to see something fresh from one of Hollywood’s most beloved actresses at the moment.

All in all, “American Hustle” is an example of a movie that has it all: great acting, interesting plot, complex characters, accurate depiction of an exciting time period and just the right amount of humor. It will be interesting to see how this film does in the rest of the awards season and whether its success will continue.