“Did you ever have to find a way to survive and you knew your choices were bad, but you had to survive?”
Sorry for being off for a couple of weeks (holiday season and all, you understand) but it wasn’t entirely my fault, I did try. I went to the dollar theater to see if I and (by extension) you missed any good movies in the past few months (we didn’t, you’re welcome for taking that terrible bullet for you) and while I did see 47 Ronin, it just didn’t seem worth writing a whole post over a review that could be boiled down to one sentence: It sucked, even by Keanu standards. But thankfully I have just seen American Hustle.
The story of two clever grifters dealing in a 1970’s banking/loan fraud confidence scheme (think of a pre-e-mail version of the Nigerian email scheme). While Irving (Christian Bale) and Sydney (Amy Adams) are doing well in their scheme, when they are caught and blackmailed by an ambitious FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). DiMaso is hyper-zealous, the cocaine might be partly to blame, in his endeavors to catch white collar criminals feels that he needs the help of two professionals to help him catch bigger fish. Of course DiMaso initially offers them a deal of jail time or 4 mid-level white collar criminals is quickly forgotten as he gets greedier and greedier…Until he has Irving and Sydney in a deal they can’t control involving a corrupt city mayor, bribe taking members of Congress, and, well, high ranking members of the Mafia. Add to this dangerous situation the fact that Irving has a wife (Jennifer Lawrence) who is both ditzy and sociopathic or as Irving puts it “She was the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate.”
Christian Bale makes this character likable. Forget the rest of the story, that is an Oscar worthy feat in and of itself.
This whole situation leads larger and larger problems for Irving and Sydney. What makes this movie special is that despite being a pair of crooks, Bale and Adams give Oscar worthy performances to make these two confidence people human and likable in spite of all their flaws. Bale especially takes a character who should be reviled and makes him pitiable and, in some ways, admirable. Throughout the entire movie you feel sorry for the position that Irving has stumbled into being directed by an unstable FBI agent who does not listen to Irving’s repeated warning to not try and make this operation even bigger. Yes part of the reason we feel for him is just the fact of the plot that he is trying to just save everyone he cares about, but Bale brings a sense of humanity to the character that drives the film beyond just being a banal crime movie.
Added to this Lawrence and Cooper offers needed levity with their own brands of insanity and chaos.
Now the garish 70’s clothing, decorations, and music are a bit annoying…but it wouldn’t be the 70’s if that weren’t the case. And given all the great acting and witty banter and clever situations, I think we should forgive the flaws of a godawful decade. Especially when the film includes the insightful statement “fucking Carter.” And as an added bonus you see how stupid government officials really are.
Now I have seen a lot of critics who didn’t say that this film was a hacky retread of tropes and tricks of Scorsese’s film…except this movie, unlike Scorsese is actually done by someone who isn’t an overhyped hack and actually entertaining (yes I find Martin Scorsese to possibly be the most overrated director in the history of film). Please ignore these tasteless critics, unlike a Scorsese film, there are characters you can actually like and feel for, unlike Martin’s usual rubbish the plot is interesting, and unlike those films the praise this movie gets is actually deserved.