“The general consensus among pundits, with which I agree, is that American Hustle is immensely entertaining, features terrific performances across the board (led by supporting actress Jennifer Lawrence, who steals every scene in which she appears) and should score a bunch of Oscar and Globe noms, but is ultimately a light caper — sort of a higher-brow Oceans 11 — and may lack the gravitas necessary to pull off any major wins.” — from 11.27 posting from Hollywood Reporter award-season analyst Scott Feinberg.
Amy Adams, Christian Bale in David O. Russell’s American Hustle.
I caught David O. Russell‘s American Hustle last night inside DGA theatre #1, and I guess my reaction had something to do with the positive but somewhat tempered responses to last Sunday’s first-time-anywhere screening for a few L.A. bloggers. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would, given the reaction from Hitfix‘s Kris Tapley. It may lack Best Picture gravitas, but it doesn’t lack for tingling texture or intrigue or exceptional flavor. I decided to tap out a letter to Russell directly this morning, and here’s some of what I said:
“David — The initial reactions to American Hustle were within the usual prism of ‘how award-friendly is it?’ I don’t give a shit about that calibration any more, but the person whom I asked last Monday morning ‘what is this film about?’ said ‘I honestly don’t know.’ And I said “you don’t know?” You saw the movie and you don’t know what it’s about?
“As you said last night during the q & a, American Hustle is obviously about (a) we all play roles and (b) who are we really, and who do we want to be? This is also a movie in love with the occasional sweep and elevation of cinematic pizazz…when music and emotion and camera-ecstasy just fuse and click together in the right mood-trip way, like that moment you described at the end of Mad Men‘s 2012 season when Don Draper walks off the commercial set to the strains of ‘You Only Live Twice.’ Your movie has at least four or five moments like this. Okay, three or four.
“What a steaming cauldron of New Jersey-ness…a stew of delusion, bad taste, poor behavior, pretentiousness, hunger, greed, longing, love, desire, deception, hoped-for identity, community…what a ’70s thrash-around!
“I wasn’t sure what American Hustle was at first, but I knew it was very actor-ish, very liberal in terms of what you were looking for and what you were ready to let the actors do…that you were letting scenes go on past the point of simply advancing the narrative. Which I fell in love with immediately. Part movie-styling, partly a dramatic strategy, partly an acting-class environment. The narrative point of this or that scene had been reached but you let things go on a bit in order to…I don’t know, let the movie breathe? To experiment? To let Amy Adams or Christian Bale or Jennifer Lawrence explore or uncover or poke a stick into whatever might work at the moment — anecdotal or skewed behavior, cunning pushbacks, angle-dangles, communal embracings.
“How did you do that amazing Park Avenue shot with all the ’70s cars? What I mean is, how much of that was CG and how many actual cars did you use? I didn’t think to try and eyeball the distance but wasn’t the Pan Am building still the Pan Am building back then? Did you manage to put the Pan Am building in? I’ll see the film again on Tuesday night so I’ll be looking.
“I think Christian Bale‘s stomach could have been less bloated. Just a bit less bloated. No biggie.
“This isn’t Jennifer Lawrence‘s show entirely. She’s being given the edge in the press, I believe, because she impulsively plants the kiss on Amy Adams and not vice versa, so she’s presumed to be the stronger character. But I think Amy has hit some kind of summit in this film. She nails it strong and clean and vivid. Emotionally, spiritually, sexually and cunnningly. There’s so much more to her than Lawrence’s character, who, as you said last night, says the most bizarre and confounding things that start to make sense when you think about them five or ten minutes later but at first it’s, like, ‘what?’ But Adams is almost Shakespearean in this film. Part Lady Macbeth, part Cosmo girl, part you-tell-me.
“Poor Jeremy Renner…a pompadoured family man, a good fellow and perhaps a goodfella on some level, but definitely a decent human being. A proud, emotional New Jersey-an.
“At first the film was distinguished by little pop-pop-pops, like the sound out of an air rifle. Then it began to explode firecrackers, and then little mini-cherry bombs and ash cans. Little wake-ups and wait-a-minutes and emotional lava overflows and mini-eruptions throughout. “The art of survival is a dance that never ends”…isn’t that the line? Correct me if I’m wrong, please.
“Obviously American Hustle is not a plot-driven or even a resolution-driven film as much as a New Jersey-Atlantic City immersion and a cultural mood trip as well as an exploration of how American it is to play fast and loose with identity, and how willing most people are to shuffle the cards and re-deal when the situation requires it.
“The bottom line is that American Hustle is a much better, more original film than I expected, given the reaction from last weekend. It’s a very unique and arousing and unusual thing, never quite tipping or going in the direction where you think it might be heading. Lawrence and Aams are the best, although I didn’t mean to write it that way — I meant to sat Adams and Lawrence. Or more precisely, Adams-Lawrence or Lawrence-Adams.
“Bradley Cooper was great. What a stupid, unstable, desperate prick his character is. Hilarious.”