Year Released: 2013
Directed by: David O. Russell
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner
(R, 129 min.)
Genre: Drama, Dark Comedy
“The film itself is one big, delicious con.” Cameron Meier
While it purports to recap the notorious FBI ABSCAM sting of the late 70s, what American Hustle really mirrors is Hollywood itself – its self-obsession, crass showmanship and vulgar superficiality. But the talent overflows as well, so we can’t help ourselves from having as good a time as the entire cast seems to be doing.
“It’s all about the Hair,” scream critics Scott Foundas and Steve Davis., while LA Times’ Adam Tschorn headlines his piece “American Hustle Builds Character from the Scalp Down,” also having a little fun with the sub-headline “Hair Apparent.”
And here it’s the guys who obsess about their locks. Christian Bale, playing Irving Rosenfeld, a paunchy Bronx con man, creates his elaborate comb over with paste, panache and the relentless focus of a second grader’s glue project.
Bradley Cooper, the semi-unhinged FBI agent, is as tightly wound as his manufactured curls, while Jeremy Renner’s New Jersey mayor has the same free-wheeling boyish do and scruples as Chicago’s onetime Mayor Rod Blagojevich, now serving time in Illinois, the state whose “governors make their license plates.”
The fact that Cooper had to spend 3 hours daily to get his curls styled, and that they were, in fact, his own idea, says something about both the dedication and the external focus of the production values here. Bale, whose gaunt creations in The Machinist (2004), Rescue Dawn (2007) as well as The Fighter (2011) enhanced those fine performances, gets to do the opposite here, putting on some 50 pounds of paunch for this role.
And then there’s all the talk about the clothes, too. Amy Adams plays Sidney Prosser, a one-time stripper working her way up in the world. She becomes the class act to Irving’s small time cons, but first he shows her his “legit” operation, a string of dry cleaning shops. It’s here that her transformation begins, where she swishes through the racks to find something suitable from the unclaimed “frocks” – if you’ll forgive me for borrowing that British phrase just as Sidney borrows a somewhat unconvincing British accent and persona to complete her reinvention. But those stripper roots run deep, as we see in a series of braless dresses cut almost to her navel, prompting one smart aleck critic to brand her the best “unsupported actress.”
Sure, reinvention is a unifying theme in this last of a loose trilogy (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook) by Director David O. Russell about “people whose lives have not gone the way they wanted or intended.” The self-created hairstyles, clothes, accents, and personnas all underscore that.
But if the critics, this one included, are obsessing over the externals as much as the actors themselves, what does this say about the depth of the film itself? Could it be that there’s no there there? That as fellow outlier Cameron Meir has suggested: “Writer-director David O. Russell has fashioned a beautiful, cinematic junk heap and apparently conned the New York Film Critics Circle into thinking it’s a masterpiece.”
This film is marinated in its 70s mystique, that all too maligned decade that saw Different Drummer as a new bride and mother, leaning on her vintage Betty Crocker Cookbook to get through. Who could forget those wonderful party dips, all courtesy of those little bags of dehydrated Lipton Soups. To steal the phrase from another soup maker “Mmm mmm Good.”
Our recipes are so easy, even Irving’s ditsy wife Rosalyn could put them together. Just don’t let her near the microwave, though.
Four Soup-er Dips from the 1970s
1 cup California Dip (see recipe below) 1 medium avocado, mashed 1 medium tomato, chopped 1/4 cup chopped green pepper 1 teaspoon lemon juice 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Blend all ingredients; chill.
Lipton California Dip
In a small bowl, blend 1 envelope Lipton Onion Soup Mix with 2 cups (16 oz.) sour cream; chill.
California Horseradish 'n Bacon Dip
Add 6 slices bacon, crisp-cooked and crumbled, and 3 teaspoons horseradish, to 2 cups California Dip.
Substitute 2 cups (16 oz.) plain yogurt for sour cream in California Dip.