Friday, December 20, 2013

David O. Russell's AMERICAN HUSTLE Pulls A Scorsese On ABSCAM

AMERICAN HUSTLE (Dir. David O. Russell, 2013)

“Some of this actually happened...” a title tells us up front and then we're off into one of the impressive approximations of the intoxicating style of Martin Scorsese that I've ever seen. And I've seen a lot of them.

David O. Russell's follow-up to his home runs THE FIGHTER and last year's SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK presents a darkly funny take on the ABSCAM sting of the late '70s and early '80s by way of a couple of con artist caricatures, portrayed by Christian Bale and Amy Adams, who are blackmailed into working for Bradley Cooper as an unhinged over-permed FBI agent.

Our intro to Bale as Irving Rosenfeld (loosely based on convicted con man Melvin Weinberg), takes us through how he applies what his girlfriend/partner-in-crime Adams calls “an elaborate comb-over,” gives us all we need to know about this small-time loan scammer. 

Of course, Bale and Adams' documentary-style voice-overs aren't the only allusions to GOODFELLAS going on in all the set-ups, as dead-on Carter-era song choices (Steely Dan's “Dirty Work” serves as a perfect opening theme song), and grainy chaotic camerawork relishing all the garish wardrobes and decor of the surroundings, keeps a Scorsese-ian sweep going from start to finish.

There's also a good bit of Paul Thomas Anderson's BOOGIE NIGHTS embedded in the structure, but since that also had massive debts to Scorsese, I digress. 

Cooper's Richard Richie DiMaso, who's based on FBI Agent Anthony Amoroso, Jr. can come off as much as a speeding spaz as the amped up movie around him at times, but look deeper and you'll see one of the most electric performances of the year.

More colorful caricatures (I call them that because everybody looks like they stepped out of the pages of Mad Magazine movie satires from the era depicted) crop up in the form of Jennifer Lawrence (Cooper's SILVER LININGS co-star) as Bale's bawdy wild card of a wife who may accidentally blow everyone's cover (Lawrence acts her ass off), Jeremy Renner as the idealistic mayor of Camden, New Jersey (with a very Joe Pesci-ish pompadour) who gets up in the scam, and comedian Louis C.K. as Cooper's uptight FBI supervisor.

A running bit about Cooper needling C.K. about both approving more money for the operation and guessing the moral of an aborted ice-fishing anecdote is a successful strand of silliness that kept me laughing alongside all the other in-your-face absurdity here.

Many will say its more rip-off than homage with such lame bon mots as “Scorsese-lite” to “Rhinestone Scorsese,” but I liken it to how people call a song that's in the vein of the Beatles but still has its own groove: “Beatle-esque.”

AMERICAN HUSTLE is definitely Scorsese-esque, but it has its own grooves going in its riffing on '70s cinema vibes. At one point when schooling Cooper on the art of the con, Bale asks “Who's the master: the painter or the forger?” 

I'll still go with the painter, especially as we're on the verge of a major Marty release (THE WOLF OF WALL STREET opens on Christmas day) that more than tops this, but when it comes to what Russell and his crack cast are going for here, to quote Christopher Walken in a classic SNL sketch: “It's a Hell of a forgery.”

More later... 

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