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Cinema Signal: A con job with a brilliant cast. Definite Go! MOBILE version |
. "American Hustle"

From its perfect title to its spectacular cast, this film is ahead of you every step of the way, most of all with an energy level we may not have seen recently. It's also the most generous in female cleavage (in case your attention was waning) and constantly enticing in pure character engagement. For the film year 2013, this non-stop hustle, based on an actual FBI sting operation known as ABSCAM, is a keeper.

It is written that way (Eric Singer, David O. Russell), directed that way (David O. Russel), and performed with an abandonment to people that are, well, frisky, devilish, notorious, and just this side of a nuthouse. There isn't an actor alive who shouldn't see and study this film. As for the young male demo, the word's out.

Central character Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale like never before) starts us off in understanding where he's coming from in the elaborate hair he layers for that virile, moxie look. Nothing -- in Irving's world -- suffers from understatement or inadequacy of self estimation. But his appeal has little to do with artificiality in personal grooming.

Irving, a shrewd con man with the legal front of a business man running a dry-cleaning establishment, is a man of morals. They may be broken, tarnished, frayed and easily compromised, but there's a core of decency that shows up at the oddest times. He's a criminal of unsteady dishonesty.

Perhaps as a reward for this connection to the good side, he gets to meet the dazzling redhead named Sydney Prosser (seductive, kittenish Amy Adams), aka Lady Edith (from her stripper days) who, if she knows anything, it's how to use her gifts for affecting a roomful of men, and reinventing herself to control a different class of men. A femme fatale of the dark arts, she's got so much in common with Irving that it's pretty much serious love at first blush. With her nefarious attributes and street smarts complementing his, they embark on a brilliant long con job that is the core essence of the plot.

But there's a monkey wrench or two all along this carefully plotted trail, first in being fingered by aspiring FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) who recognizes that Irving is small fry in the world of petty crime. Richie is ambitious. And, with a softie like Irving, he sees a way to gain glory in the agency. He offers Irving a way out of a prison sentence if he helps Richie make a name for himself by getting the goods on far bigger fish in the world of thievery and political corruption. Four successful stings will get Irving off the hook for scamming. Fair enough, right?

On the more messed up emotional side are the babes. Like, Irving's dizzy and unclued wife Rosalyn (dizzy and delicious Jennifer Lawrence, of whom you haven't had a taste like this before). She has yet to discover hubby's deep involvement with Sydney and how he's fallen in with the FBI. When she does force Irving into one of his limited confessions, she throws the biggest monkey wrench into the operation with raw spunk, putting the operation and all the delicate relationships into a tailspin and all but becoming the centerpiece of the show. She turns in an upstaging portrayal we'll be talking about with awe and affection for months.

Another wrinkle is Richie's bewildered, economically-challenged bureau boss Stoddard Thorsen (Louis C.K.) who gets tantrums from Richie when he refuses requests for cases of cash and for reservations at a five-star hotel. He just doesn't see a need for such expenditures for his increasingly demanding agent who's vision of crime-busting glory gets more expensive by the day.

And, just to show how Irving's morals work, you have to be there to see how he ultimately treats Mayor Carmine Polito (spiffed up Jeremy Renner) a guy he ruins but considers a friend. Renner delivers one of his most complex and pivotal portrayals, threaded through with high animation and emotion aplenty. That aptitude for controlling men gets a workout and makes Adams sizzle everytime she's in a room with one.

The dry cleaner's mix of decency and larceny gives the film whose betrayals and deceptions -- some imagined, some real -- a moral underpinning that keeps it in the realm of prime, mischievous entertainment.

As for this incredibly good ensemble of actors, if you thought you've seen the best of them, you're in for a seismic shakeup of what you thought about their capabilities. (Oh, and did I mention that Robert Deniro, (who slides in a shiv of mobster threat and danger), is in the film, and that Michael Pena plays an Arabian Sheik?)

On the craftsmanship side, many pats on the back go to Swedish cinematographer Linus Sandgren, and the amazing work of costume designer Michael Wilkinson ("Man of Steel"), who gets a green light with a bullet for plunging necklines.

A long and convoluted scheme turns people inside out, twists the scheme, and raises serious doubts that the con, amid the mischief and misdirection (not the director's, who knows a thing or two about pace and the extremes of human behavior), is still on the rails. The extreme length of the journey dulls the sharpness before we get to the station but, for a good time, come see this adorable, sexy, hilarious, lively, devious, antic piece of cockeyed comedy. You want nominations? This is a storehouse full.

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                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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