David O. Russell‘s American Hustle opened in six theatres yesterday to the tune of $211,000, and now’s the time for the HE community to weigh in. It’s one of the year’s best but…where do I start? I’m from New Jersey and the Jersey-based characters in American Hustle aren’t from my gene pool. I felt for Jeremy Renner‘s Elvis-pompadoured mayor of Camden but even he’s not right for me — too ethnic, too many kids, too much food at the table. Yeah, I got a kick out of Jennifer Lawrence‘s spunky, braying housewife but I avoid women like her when I see them in real life. They’re nice deep down but they’re horrible to deal with on practical matters.
(l. to r.) Adams, Cooper, Renner, Bale, Lawrence.
Hustle is improvisationally alive and crackling and knowingly tacky, but for all the enjoyment it gave me and all the award-season action it’s getting, it doesn’t quite…what? Deliver my kind of emotional through-line? I didn’t quite see myself in this thing, not really. I’m one of the few New Jersey guys who writes a daily movie column that movie stars read so don’t tell me. But it’s a good film. Better than good. It’s nervy and anxious and always up to something. It might be better than I realize.
I’ve been waiting all my life to fuck up like this. That’s a line from Karel Reisz and Robert Stone‘s Who’ll Stop The Rain? (’78), and I’ve no idea why…wait, what?
From my 11.30 review: “American Hustle is obviously about (a) we all play roles and (b) who are we really, and who do we want to be? 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.
“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. 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.’
“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.”