Sunday, December 22, 2013

Are You Being Hustled?

Some of these things actually happened.

But probably not many of them. At least not in any way close to the presentation in American Hustle

That doesn't stop it from being an excellent movie, though.

It's one of the few movies I've seen where I had no idea about what was coming next. At its base, it's a con movie, so you're never quite sure who's conning whom and what anyone has up his sleeve. Or under her skirt, I suppose, since the women are perpetually dressed as they are in the poster. And, then, at least a couple of the characters are at least slightly unhinged, and you never quite know which direction the story is going.

Surprisingly, the movie opens with one of those flash-forward/flashback type things that I normally hate, but they really made it work in this one. For one thing, the movie doesn't start near the climax, just at the point of the first sting operation. It's the place where we meet all of the major players, so to speak. Once the deal falls apart, we flashback with Irving Rosenfeld for a first person narration (which I also usually hate) of what brought him to that point. But what makes it interesting is that when we get to the part where he crosses paths with Sydney Prosser, she picks up the narration and, then, they have this kind of dueling narration giving us the back story, and it really works. It helps that it's not a "36 hours earlier" kind of scenario. It's the characters telling us about who they are, you know, as people, and that's what makes it work.

As interesting as the story is, though, it's the acting that makes this movie. The performances, all of them, are incredible.

Christian Bale shows us once again just what he's willing to do physically to become his character, this time putting on a bit of a paunch (which he shows off in the movie in a very unflattering way) and shaving a bald spot onto his head (also unflattering). He's what can only be described as a sleazy character, a con man, but, by the time we get back to the point in the story where it started, we have total sympathy for him. I just want to point out that I am not a Bale fan. I have respect for what he's willing to go through for a role (like in The Machinist and Rescue Dawn), and I think he's a good actor, but I don't really like him that much. That I say he was impressive in this role is, then, saying something.

Amy Adams--cute, sweet Amy Adams--shows us she's anything but as an ex-stripper trying to reinvent herself. Her boobs should probably also have received some sort of credit. Not that they ever fully appear onscreen or anything, but it's hard not to be aware of them when she's onscreen. She's like some 70s porn star or something. Or like what I think a 70s porn star must have been like. I'm not really sure. At any rate, her performance is pretty amazing, and you're never quite sure what she's up to, just that she is up to... things. It's her performance that provides a lot of the tension in the movie, because you're never really sure whose side she's on. Well, other than her own, that is.

Bradley Cooper is amazing as a somewhat overzealous FBI agent. And I'd say more about him, but I don't think I can without spoilers. I'll just say that I think Cooper has a certain intensity about him that not many actors can equal. And, according to my wife, he and Adams deliver one of the sexiest scenes she's ever seen. The amazing thing about that is that nothing happens in that scene. Well, not nothing but, you know, nothing happens: there is no loss of clothing or anything like that. But it's intense, and most of that is from him.

Jennifer Lawrence continues to show that she's more than just a pretty face. I'm not quite sure she deserved her Oscar last year (not that her performance wasn't good; it was. I've just never been convinced it was "best actress" quality), but, if she gets a best supporting Oscar for this role, it will be deserved. The scene with her and the "science oven" is almost enough all by itself to earn her the Oscar.

And, then, there's Jeremy Renner. And his hair. Because if Amy Adams boobs almost deserved a screen credit, Renner's hair certainly did. I could not take my eyes off of it. It was amazing. And, in a movie where everyone's hair was pretty amazing, that's saying something. This is the first movie I've seen him in where he shows me he can do something besides play "taciturn hero" (and, no, I haven't yet seen The Hurt Locker, but, knowing what it's about (loosely), I'm guess he plays "taciturn hero" in that one, too). He's pretty great as a New Jersey mayor in this. He's pretty great in the sense that I did not actually know he was in the movie before I was seeing the movie, and, then, I kept wondering if I was wrong and maybe that wasn't really him, so that, I think, is a pretty good performance.

Louis C.K. also fit in nicely. I don't think there was any kind of stretch for him as an actor, but he worked well with everyone else. As did Elisabeth Rohm (from Angel); I didn't recognize her at all.

The end result is a lot of compelling performances and an interesting plot. Enough so that, as I sit here writing this up, it makes me want to watch it again. Especially Jeremy Renner's hair. I don't think I've been so captivated by anyone's hair since the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl back in '93 (I think) and someone (Emmitt Smith?) poured a cooler of water over Jimmy Johnson's head, and his hair didn't move. It was like he had on a plastic, hair-shaped helmet. It was fascinating.

Oh! And the cameo appearance by De Niro... the perfect touch.


  1. I've really been wanting to see this movie. Glad to hear that it probably won't disappoint.

  2. Still might get out to see this one. You've made a compelling argument for the hair.

  3. Yeah, I want to see this movie, too; just because my girl Jennifer's in it.

    I didn't know Jeremy Renner was in it, too...BONUS.

  4. I think I want to see this just for the sake of Jeremy Renner's hair. The way you talk it up... I have to see if it lives up to the hype. Also, thanks for the laugh over the Jimmy Johnson hair. Oh, I remember that silver hair helmet of his. I bet after all these years it's just physically impossible to move it in any other direction. It's just been molded that way.

  5. Totally excited to see this now. Wasn't sure. Hate being disappointed but I love con movies, and you've really done a good job of giving it more than just a thumbs up - you gave reasons and the kinds of reasons that appeal to me: double narration THAT WORKS, Bradley Cooper, love Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams, and yes, when you're not sure if someone is who you think it is, that's a good performance.
    I remember the Jimmy Johnson hair thing so that's the final kicker. I am seeing this movie.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to a great blogging buddy!
    Tina @ Life is Good

  6. I really, really want to see this movie, but the closest theater to me that's playing it is two hours away. I'm hoping to find the time and some decent weather for a road trip after the holidays.

    And speaking of the holidays, I hope you have a good one.

  7. Hearing all kinds of great things about American Hustle. Will have to see it when I have the time.

    Amy Adams and boobs? Really? Definitely need to see this movie.

  8. I thought it was an excellent film. Christian Bale was incredible in his role... and I also love Jennifer Lawrence.

    Well acted by all.

  9. This movie is blowing the reviewers away. It's a shoe-in for a ton of Oscars and is a great departure for Bale.

  10. Alex: It probably won't. If you like period pieces, especially 70s period pieces, it will be hard not to like this one.

    Alex: The opening scene with Bale and his hair is almost worth the whole thing.

    RG: Lawrence is great, especially her "dance" number.

    ABftS: I think that hair of his could have survived an explosion.

    Tina: I hope you enjoy it. It's got a great cast.
    Merry Christmas to you, too!

    M.J.: What's with you and your local theater never showing anything good? You should seriously have a talk with them.

    And you have a great holiday season, too! Away from The Store.

    Jay: It is definitely something you have to see to believe, I think.

    Elisabeth: It was well acted. very much so.

    Maurice: It's going to get some nominations; that's for sure. I've seen three of the likely best pic nominations at this point, and, so far, this one is my choice for best picture.

  11. I've been on the fence with this one, thinking it was maybe more of a rental than a theater watch, but I'm thinking it might be a good back-to-school date with the hubbie (we often see our movies while the kids are at school and grab some lunch so we don't have to pay a babysitter or mess with movie crowds or deal with me getting in someone's face because they're talking on their cell phone or texting during the film, ahem). Anyway, sounds good! I do like Christian Bale, as well as all the other actors in this, no I'm apparently not as big a Jennifer Lawrence fan as everyone else. She's alright.

  12. When I first heard about this I thought "Oh, that sounds so stupid." Then I saw a few commercials and decided I might want to watch it. The Boy really wants to see it, but his recommendations are hit-or-miss. I'd rather trust yours.

    I'm actually more interested, though, in why you think the voice-over and flash forward/back worked in this case. You're good at explaining why things work. You should do a post on that kind of thing: when voice overs or first person or flash forwards work and why.

  13. I thought that looked like a good movie when I saw the trailer. If it passes the Andrew test, it might actually be one. Now if only I had the time...

  14. I enjoyed your review so much, especially the denial of knowing what 70s porn stars look like. Of course we believe you. I haven't heard about this movie at all. It sounds intriguing. But getting back to the porn star thing, I really liked "Boogie Nights." ;)

    Merry Christmas!

  15. Shannon: I didn't think much of Lawrence until Silver Linings, but that movie showed me that she can actually act, and this one shows that even more.

    Briane: The short version is that most voice-over narration is to give back story up front, stuff that is usually revealed later in the movie anyway, so it's redundant among other things. In American Hustle, the voice-over goes along with the action that's happening on screen and, in a lot of ways, is like hearing the characters' thoughts as the events are happening.

    Maybe I'll do a post sometime.

    Jeanne: Oh, time is a thing... a thing I kind of hate.

    Lexa: Most of my views of what 70s porn stars must have been like come from movies like Saturday Night Fever, which I didn't even see until the 80s. I was just a kid in the 70s and didn't care for much past Star Wars.
    But I did see Boogie Nights... but it's been long enough that I don't remember it well.

  16. Did I comment on this already? So tired. Heard the movie was good.

  17. Rusty: Other than Saving Mr. Banks, which I haven't seen yet, I'd say this has the best chance at Best Picture.