More than any other time of the year, award season brings out the critic in all of us as films are held side by side for comparison and ranked in an endless number of ways on an ever-growing number of lists.
And since film press is nothing if not pattern driven as PR firms pitch the same press releases and angles to everyone on their contact list, by the end of each annual award season, audiences inundated by the constant stream of similarly covered news and editorial pieces often feel like opinions announced again and again have become the official word on the matter.
Whether consciously or not, the steady stream of repetition can trick you into thinking you’ve seen something you might not have seen or felt something you might not have felt just because of majority rule and the amount of ink spilled on whatever the topic may be. Of course, in the end, the only opinion that truly matters to you is your own in assessing everything and making up your own mind.
Yet given how successfully opinion is turned into fact in today’s fast-paced world, I couldn’t help but feel that the conman, chameleon-like quick-thinking characters that populate American Hustle would – if set in contemporary Hollywood rather than ‘70s New York – have been absolutely brilliant working in the film industry when it comes to spinning yarns and selling anything they want to earn a buck.
And perhaps part of the reason that Silver Linings Playbook and Three Kings filmmaker David O. Russell was so drawn to the world of Hustle was because it felt so familiar. Of course, that’s in addition to the way the film provides him with a springboard for the themes and motifs that have obsessed him for ages given its tale of multiple love triangles that lie just below the surface of the characters’ existential search for the happiness epitomized by the promise of the American Dream.
Revisiting the same throughline that has dominated his oeuvre from Flirting With Disaster all the way up through Silver Linings that focuses on an internal quest undertaken by a character who hits a metaphorical wall and then needs to figure out how to turn their life around for the better, Russell has achieved the impossible. He’s managed to make the seemingly larger-than-life characters of American Hustle not only endlessly fascinating but surprisingly relatable (if only on the most primal of levels) from start to finish.
Like all other film fans who read far too much award season coverage, I couldn’t believe how much this film was compared to Martin Scorsese’s ode to Wall Street driven hedonistic excess – The Wolf of Wall Street.
While some people focused on both films’ emphasis on con men and colorful characters (not to mention the fact that both pictures were based on true stories – albeit quite loosely in the case of Hustle), others emphasized the Goodfellas meets Boogie Nights ode to glitz and glamour of Russell’s cinematic technique.
Going against popular consensus – despite growing up with a particular fondness for Scorsese whose works I knew inside and out – while I understood the surface level comparisons, the one thing I was totally unprepared for is just how much I preferred Hustle to the overblown exhaustive spectacle that was Wolf.
Additionally it was absolutely thrilling to discover that unlike the interchangeable blow-up doll like women that were used as sex toys for gratuitous scenes of unappealingly animalistic sexcapades in Wolf, Russell has – in once again reteaming not only with his Oscar winning Silver actress Jennifer Lawrence but nominated Fighter star Amy Adams – crafted two fully realized female characters.
Using Adams and Lawrence as muses the way that Scorsese uses DiCaprio, writer/director Russell ensured that the women of Hustle were just as (if not more) powerful, intelligent and fascinating than the male characters who became their marks in love and life via Bradley Cooper’s ambitious yet easily manipulated FBI agent to Christian Bale’s confident conman and the bighearted politician played by Jeremy Renner.
Completely vanishing into their Oscar nominated roles and changing multiple times from start to finish, American Hustle is a master class in acting.
Rewriting Eric Warren Singer’s more procedural, fact based script that centered on the outrageous headline grabbing Abscam scandal to flesh out the characters and infuse the thriller elements with off-the-cuff, fast-moving humor and complicated, multifaceted romance, Russell used his writer’s sensibility to helm what is his most exciting film to date.
The recipient of three Golden Globes including Best Picture (Musical or Comedy), while it would lose all ten of its Oscar nominated categories matching the same fate as Wolf's, it’s my prediction that just like 1997’s overlooked Boogie Nights, Hustle’s reputation will grow stronger than Silver and Fighter’s in the years ahead.
Featuring some of the most quotable dialogue of the year, American Hustle also boasts a virtuoso performance by Amy Adams who plays a woman with so many layers and complex mysteries that in retrospect, I truly believe she had the most difficult role and should’ve been awarded the Oscar for Best Actress over dazzling Blue Jasmine star Cate Blanchett.
Newly transferred to disc to hopefully kickstart a greater appreciation for this American masterpiece, Sony’s high-caliber DVD release comes complete with an Ultraviolet digital copy and featurettes plus additional footage you’re sure to relish on repeat viewings to explore the dizzying highs and lows that coexist in a single scene by characters that grow more intriguing with each passing minute.
Through American Hustle, Russell proves that when it comes to quality filmmaking, you can’t hustle viewers ready to process everything they’ve read during award season on their own terms while watching a movie filled with people that do the same.
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