In ‘American Hustle,’ director David O. Russell’s love of chaos reigns

Amy Adams and Christian Bale do the '70s in David O. Russell's "American Hustle." Credit: Francois Duhamel
Amy Adams and Christian Bale do the ’70s in David O. Russell’s “American Hustle.”
Credit: Francois Duhamel

‘American Hustle’
Director: David O. Russell
Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

A decade ago, David O. Russell was a “difficult” filmmaker, prone to eccentric projects (“I Heart Huckabees”) and scandalous on-set outbursts. He’s pulled an impressive 180, albeit by churning out films that wouldn’t seem to interest such an iconoclast: an inspirational sports saga (“The Fighter”) and a feel-good dramedy about movie mental illness (“Silver Linings Playbook”). True, he’s forced those projects to fit his own particular brand: They carry over his love of extreme disorder and locating the funny in the assumed-to-be unfunny. But they still smack of compromise.

Without assuming too much, it’s likely he identifies a lot with the characters of “American Hustle,” his take on what could be called “the ‘Goodfellas’ genre.” Jam-packed with crazy camera moves and killer music cues, it concerns the larger-than-life Abscam operation of the ’70s and ’80s. Christian Bale and Amy Adams play con artists blackmailed by the feds — including Bradley Cooper’s overzealous agent — into cracking down on the mafia and entrapping the connected but decent Camden mayor (Jeremy Renner).

Each character — starting with Bale’s Irving Rosenfeld, who kicks off the film by painstakingly erecting his combination toupee and combover — is forced to become something they’re not. “Did you ever have to learn how to survive?” one of them asks. The narration track brims over with similar statements about having to adapt and reinvent and generally mask one’s true self to get by. Adams’ Sydney Prosser adopts a fakey, in-and-out British accent and confesses, “My dream was to become anybody else than who I was.” Even Cooper curls his own hair and pretends that he’s a powerful agent, when in reality his superior is played by a never-shlubbier Louis C.K.

Is Russell trying to say something? Even now, one of his films — “Nailed,” filmed in 2007 — sits on a shelf, collecting dust, thanks to a dense legal snafu, with no end in sight. He remains a desperate man in a business that turns on you with the first hint of failure. Technically he shouldn’t even be doing a Martin Scorsese knockoff. And in truth, he only winds up meeting the genre halfway. Russell is not Scorsese. He doesn’t do “cool shots” with the camera. His passion is for observing actors, giving them the space to create chaos that his frames struggle to contain. There’s a push-pull between its director’s style and the material’s own requisite style. Whiplashy camera pans become Russell’s own brand of long takes where actors — also including Jennifer Lawrence, reliably scene-stealing as Irving’s mysteriously ignored wife — step over each other’s lines, shouting and screaming to be heard.

Likewise, there are “cool” songs, but they tend to either be smoother (Steely Dan, Chicago) or goofier (some never-heard ELO tracks from Jeff Lynne’s personal stash) than the norm. There is no rise and fall arc. The characters start crazy and end crazy. They don’t even need drugs; they get high on their own cross-wired personalities. On the other hand, Russell should never do a song montage; he needs to stay in the intense present, not chop up reality into a greatest hits package. Still, say what you will about this intentionally shrill yet often hilarious romp, which always stays a comedy, but only one person could have made it.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

International

Jews in eastern Ukraine ordered to register, Kerry…

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned reports that Jews in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities "or suffer the consequences."

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

NBA

Deron Williams leads Nets over Raptors in Game…

The Nets traveled to a raucous Air Canada Centre but came out with an important Game 1 victory over the Raptors.

NBA

Carmelo Anthony agonizing over Knicks future as season…

There’s still the cloud hanging over the franchise’s head as to the pending free-agent status of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony.

NFL

Jets host players with eye toward NFL Draft

The Jets hosted a number of NFL Draft hopefuls for workouts on Thursday, with an eye toward some under-the-radar players.

NFL

Chris Johnson: I wanted to go to 'a…

Now that Chris Johnson is a Jet, the team has to figure out if one of the most explosive players in the NFL over the last half decade has anything…

Parenting

How to parent without gender stereotypes in a…

Christia Spears Brown, Phd. author of "Parenting beyond Pink & Blue" gives advice on raising kids free of gender stereotypes.

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.