“AMERICAN HUSTLE” My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Dec. 18)
138 minutes | MPAA rating: R
David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” is crammed with near-brilliant moments and performances.
Yet the film itself left me cold. More than cold. Alienated.
Granted, mine seems to be a minority opinion. Other scribes are tossing words like “masterpiece” and “great American comedy” at “Hustle.” Maybe they’re seeing something I missed.
Inspired (loosely) by the ABSCAM operation of the late 1970s (when the FBI lured — entrapped? — politicians into taking bribes through an elaborate ruse that involved a phony oil sheik), it’s the story of a couple of con artists who get swept up by the feds and, to avoid prosecution, agree to help the government set up an even bigger con.
The film begins with a superb wordless introduction in which con man/dry cleaning magnate Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) emerges from the shower and gets to work on the face he presents to the world. The normally cut Bale (he’s Batman, fer chrissakes) put on maybe 40 pounds to play the tubby, middle-aged Irving. Now he stands in front of a mirror creating, strand by strand, spray by spray, the world’s most atrocious comb-over ‘do. It’s awesomely funny, in an I-don’t-believe-what-I’m-seeing way.
Irving is smoking a stogie at a pool party when he gets a glimpse of Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a young woman on the make both professionally and romantically. He’s ugly, she’s beautiful (unlike every other director in America, Russell looks at Amy Adams and sees rampant sexuality, God love him) and they bond over jazz. Soon he’s teaching her the ropes of financial scamming, and together they’re enjoying an erotic field day.
The catch is that Irving is married to the gold-digging Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), a quintessential Jersey princess. She won’t divorce him and, anyway, Irving is absolutely crazy about her young son, whom he has adopted.