for your consideration: american hustle.

american-hustle-poster-2American Hustle (2013 Columbia Pictures)
A con man, Irving Rosenfeld, along with his seductive partner Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso, who pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.
Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner & Jennifer Lawrence. Directed by David O. Russell. Written by Eric Warren Singer & David O. Russell. Executive Producers: Charles Roven, Richard Suckle & Megan Ellison.

David O. Russell is finding his stride. In a big way. For the third time in four years, he delivers an Oscar-worthy film that is dazzling, engrossing and so, completely entertaining. With American Hustle, Russell re-tells the ABSCAM story. Sort of. it’s a highly fictionalized version of the story, but the crux of ABSCAM is there: a con man helps the FBI bust crooked politicians by having them take bribes from a Middle Eastern “sheik.” That, alone, makes for a compelling film. But American Hustle is so much more.

It’s a comedy. It’s a drama. It’s a thriller. It’s a love story. It’s a character study. It’s a period piece. American Hustle hits on so many themes at once while never losing focus of the plot that it leaves the audience in sensory overload. Set in 1978, American Hustle captures the look and feel of the 70s better than any film since Boogie Nights. Typical of a Russell picture, the use of popular music from that era in the soundtrack only enhances the story. He might be the second best director when it comes to using contemporary music to underscore his pictures (second to Scorsese). In an age of high-def everything, Russell also uses a grittier texture in his films, giving the image an edgier, rougher feel. It certainly worked in enhancing American Hustle.

But Russell’s directing pales in comparison to the work of the entire cast. From top line all the way down, American Hustle is carried by the actors. Christian Bale is positively captivating at small-time con man Irving Rosenfeld. Combover, beer gut and all, Bale’s Rosenfeld comes off as sleazy as first, but his heart, his charisma and his intensity makes him likable. As Rosenfeld’s muse, Sydney, Amy Adams steams up every scene…and it’s not just her plunging necklines. Sydney could charm any man into doing anything for her. And she does it out of love for Irving. The chemistry between Bale and Adams is only made better with the addition of Bradley Cooper, as the intense, driven (and permed) federal agent Richie DiMaso. Together, the three combine for scenes bursting with comedy, passion and intensity.

In supporting roles, Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence stand out and steal scenes of their own. Renner plays conflicted politician Carmine Polito, who’s becomes the target of this federal sting operation while trying to do the right thing for his city. As Rosenfeld’s odd and sometimes maddening wife Rosalyn, Jennifer Lawrence once again establishes her self as a bona fide A-list talent. But the best performance in a supporting role might be Louis C.K. as FBI supervisor Stoddard Thorsen. Every scene between Richie and Stoddard is positively hysterical. The interplay between C.K. and Cooper is worthy of any comedy team.

These performance drive every scene of American Hustle to be better and better, right up to the apex of the plot, when the con man and fed’s master plan is thrown a wrench in a meeting with Victor Tellegio. I’ll just leave it at that.

Once again, David O. Russell hits a home run. American Hustle might be the best film of 2013. It is, without question, the best film of Russell’s career.

MY RATING: ****-1/2 (out of 5)

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