Film: American Hustle

You know when there’s an actor that you simply cannot resist? It doesn’t matter what good or bad movies they make, or what awards or accolades they recieve, or what batshit crazy things they do and you see in the media, you simply love them and will see whatever film they’re in, no matter what. Beyond that, you’ll go into films with the warm fuzzies, and a sense that it MUST be a good movie because, duh, so-and-so is in it! When you come out of their movies, you feel renewed – they are just so great. Yeah. Well, that person is Christian Bale for me.

I will go and see any Christian Bale movie, I’ve seen all the Christian Bale movies, and I’ve loved pretty much every single one. (“Reign of Fire?” you say. I say, “yes, I love it.” “Harsh Times?” you say. I say, “Duh.”) Of course, I am aware that some of his movies are better than others, bigger than others, etc. But he’s always amazing. I, like many women of my generation, “fell” for Christian Bale in “Newsies,” carried a torch through “Little Women,” and was ushered disturbingly into puberty by “American Psycho.” Emotional and sexual scarring aside he remains, in my opinion, one of the most gifted actors alive today, and sometimes his Batman voice narrates my dreams (about Patrick Bateman.)

However, this is  not an epic about how great Christian Bale’s nose is, or his beard is, or how psychotic his crazy shout is. Though, I should inform you I was once deeply involved with  man who looked astonishingly like a bearded Christian Bale. I often wonder if that’s why I was involved with him. I shit you not.

This is about “American Hustle.”

“American Hustle” is a movie with a really upstanding cast of really good looking people looking less good looking than usual. Bradley Cooper has a troublesome hairdo, Amy Adams looks tired, Jennifer Lawrence looks intentionally older than she is, Jeremy Renner has an even more ridiculous hairdo, and Christian Bale is not only fat, but also bald. I thought this would be pretty off-putting, but everyone manages to maintain their sex appeal (less so Cooper, except for this one scene when Adams is sitting on a counter, and another when they’re in a bathroom stall. Actually never mind, they all retain sexiness.) It’s also a movie that seems like it’s going to get terrifically complicated. I imagine anything about hustling must do, it seems like a complicated verb, to hustle. However, this is a film where everyone seems to be who they said they were in the beginning and performs their roles in the narrative true-to-form. I kept expecting someone to make a 180, for some seemingly good-guy to go rotten (I’m looking at you, Jeremy Renner) or for a wormy character to turn out to have a heart of gold, or maybe even someone stupid to turn out to be a fucking genius. Don’t hold your breath, everyone is who they say they are. This makes what would be a really complicated film a very easy film to follow, and in some ways, a peculiar romance.

The story revolves around a faultlessly charming conman, Irving (Christian Bale) who meets a cunning and beautiful young woman, Sydney (Amy Adams) at a pool party (where she’s wearing a macramé swimsuit, and it is awesome.) and they develop a fast and furious affair. She then goes into business with him when he reveals the full scope of his less than legit means of employment. Turns out she’s totally brilliant at conning people out of money, and they fall ever more in love. It’s then revealed that Irving has a wife so young and so hot that the fact that he even thought to have sex with Sydney makes no sense at all, except that they are a true love match and his wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) though gorgeous, is really not the girl for him. She has a child who he adopted and though his family life is troubled, he’s committed to it. Sydney is willing to accept this, probably because despite the fact that he’s dense about the middle and has an “elaborate comb-over” he’s still Christian Bale, wait, I mean, he’s still someone she feels a profound connection to.

However, in the midst of all this balancing and conning and falling in love, they manage to get busted, by an incredibly inexperienced though oddly well-funded FBI agent, Richie (Bradley Cooper). Let me be clear here, I hate this character. This is a film without clean antagonists, and without a sense of where good guys stop and bad guys start (Irving is actually really similar to Nick Miller’s conman dad, Walt, on “New Girl.” Irving’s cute kid will probably grow up to be Nick, “not a healthy adult,” but a good guy. Sidenote: go watch “New Girl”.) The bane of Richie’s existence is having to answer to his stodgy but very wise boss, played unironically by Louis CK, so you could say there’s nothing wrong with his life and he’s just a bit of a wet blanket. He and Sydney predictably get involved with each other as he holds the she and Irving hostage, giving them the option to buy their way out of prison by exposing four other major conmen. Sydney tells Irving she’s playing a part of their sake, but we as viewers, like the characters around her, get lost in her charade. Amy Adams is a great actress playing a great actress. It’s cool.

Richie, apart from being a bit of a prat, also has a dowdy fiance, and lives with his similarly dowdy Catholic mother. He gets really swept up in all the intrigue, glamour, and velvet suits of conning in the 70s, and also gets seriously swept up by Sydney’s physics-defying silk blouses (the budget for fashion tape in this film was probably 100’s of dollars). Being the sort of prat who can’t tell when he’s got a good thing going, he pushes the other two characters to dizzying heights, and they plan a con which would inculcate the cheerful, well-loved, badly-styled Major of Camden, NJ. Carmine (Jeremy Renner) is a loving Italian-American family man and, like everyone else, is just as he seems. In addition to Carmine, the con involves a make-believe Sheik, an a whole lot of political types. It’s complicated, and I still really want to talk about meaningless stuff  like what Jennifer Lawrence wore.

One of the best things about “American Hustle” is how stylistically interesting the 1970s were. Whenever I see films set in the 70s, I feel like there’s no way it actually looked like that, but it did. People really did wear bell-bottoms, and velvet suits, and macramé, and really big hair. This film does not disappoint for people looking for righteous examples of shirts open to the waist, dresses covered in sequins, long sharp nails. What is perhaps most visually important is Jennifer Lawrence. While she doesn’t look quite as serious or fresh-faced as we may be used to, with piles of teased blonde hair up on her head, glossy pink lips, and the aforementioned red nails, she’s stunning. There’s also a scene with a big party where she wears a silver, sparkly dress which will make you revaluate everything you think about women and dresses, and probably your expectations of both.

Honesty, you could go and see the movie just to see the silver dress, also a moment early on where she’s wearing a tight white shirt, and calls her wayward husband to bed with her. That’s not true, you should watch the film because it’s a visual masterpiece, beautiful, and moving.

Also, Christian Bale is in it.

(And he’s really sexy, despite the comb-over, and the fatness, and because of the velvet. Hmmm, love a man in wide-lapelled velvet.)



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