Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
David O. Russell out-Scorseses Martin Scorsese with "American Hustle," a '70s crime romp that's ridiculously entertaining in all the best ways. "American Hustle" is actually a more thrilling and satisfying experience than Scorsese's latest, the upcoming "The Wolf of Wall Street," which similarly was inspired by the true story of an irrepressible financial huckster. The unreliable narration and urgent zooms, the 1970s milieu of flashily dressed scammers and mobsters, the carefully chosen pop songs underscoring key emotional moments: all those recognizably Scorcesean signatures are there, yet Russell infuses them with his unique brand of insanity.
This director has always has shown a fondness for characters who are on the brink of imploding or exploding, and with "American Hustle" he's assembled his own posse of stars from his last two films to serve as his personal acting troupe: Christian Bale and Amy Adams from 2011's "The Fighter" and Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from "Silver Linings Playbook." But he's so skilled with these actors (despite reports of his exhausting methods of motivation on set), he not only finds a side to them we haven't seen in his previous films, he finds a side we haven't seen, period.
Co-written with Eric Singer, Russell's latest is based on the Abscam sting operation of the late '70s and early '80s, in which a con artist helped the FBI catch members of Congress taking bribes. "Some of this actually happened," a title card playfully informs us at the film's start, before Russell introduces us to the glorious sight of Bale's paunchy Irving Rosenfeld plastering a horrendous hairpiece onto his shiny dome. To play the swaggering Rosenfeld, the owner of a small chain of Long Island dry cleaners who makes his real money through fake art and fraudulent personal loans, Bale seemingly downed all that food he denied himself while shooting "The Machinist" and "Rescue Dawn."
He meets his match at a pool party in Adams' Sydney Prosser, a scrappy young woman from Albuquerque with dreams of reinventing herself in high style. It's Sydney's idea to don a fake accent and take on the alter ego of the posh Lady Edith, a Londoner with elite banking connections—and in doing so, she kicks Rosenfeld's cons into high gear. (While all the choices from costume designer Michael Wilkinson are spot-on in their tacky period allure, Adams' ensembles are to-die-for: a plunging and sparkling array of sexy little numbers that help the actress assert her untapped va-va-voominess.)