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Movie Beat: David O. Russell's "American Hustle" both thrilling and tender
by JENNIFFER WARDELL
Dec 20, 2013 | 2130 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Rated R for language, some sexual content and brief violence

Written by Eric Singer and David O. Russell

Directed by David O. Russell

Grade: 

The truth may set you free, but lies are usually what makes it easier to get up in the morning.

Both get their due in "American Hustle," David O. Russell's seedy, magnificent and surprisingly tender ode to the small-time con man in all of us. Based loosely on the Abscam sting operation from the late 1970s, "Hustle" is really about all the little lies we tell ourselves and the truths that make even the worst moments easier to deal with.

The movie follows a Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a con man running a low-key loan scam with his mistress and one true love (Amy Adams). When she gets caught by an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper), the couple are pulled into a high-stakes sting operation meant to take out mayors and state senators. When the sting goes south, drawing the attention of the mob and Rosenfeld's unstable wife (Jennifer Lawrence), our duo will be the first on the chopping block unless they can pull off the greatest con of their lives.

At first blush the movie looks like a re-imagination of Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas," and there's more than enough crime, violence and double-crossing to satisfy any fan of the master. But Russell has more heart than Scorsese, always finding something loveable and worthy in even the strangest of society's rejects. In his eyes, we all deserve to be the hero of our own story.

Bale is a revelation as Rosenfeld, starting with a staggering physical transformation that renders the actor nearly unrecognizable. It's the emotional transformation, though, that's even more impressive. Normally a more cerebral actor, Bale infuses the character with a warmth and broken dignity that makes Rosenfeld profoundly relatable. Adams is equally good as Sydney Prosser, layering brittle world-wisdom with the desperate yearning to be loved.

The rest of the cast makes their own magic, and Russell gives everyone the chance to shine. Cooper is both tragic and oddly terrifying as Richie DiMaso, the agent who dreams of somehow making his mark on the world. Jeremy Renner is sweet as Mayor Carmine Polito, a genuinely decent guy who wants to help his city in any way he can.

The biggest delight, though, is Lawrence in the small but juicy role of Irving's wife Rosalyn. She knows Irving only stays with her because he genuinely loves her son, but she likes to spin stories just as much as Irving does. Lawrence makes the woman fierce, generous, sad, angry, apologetic and dissatisfied all in the same moment, and she makes the most of every second onscreen.

In the end, all any of us can do is grab every second and make the most of it. Hopefully, whoever's telling our story will love us as much as Russell does his characters. 

Want to know what Dan thinks of the movie? Check out his review here!

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