Best Picture Profile: American Hustle

As we come closer to the Academy Awards on March 2nd, we’ll be posting short profiles of each Best Picture nominee, attempting, in our own ways, to not only sum up what the movie is about, but why we believe it scored one of the nine coveted nominations, and why it could possibly take home the big prize come Oscar night. Enjoy!

As Ben noted in his inaugural Best Picture Profile of Captain Phillips, the Academy is focusing on heroes this year with its selection of Best Picture nominees. With that in mind, how does one explain the inclusion of American Hustle?

Certainly, no one in this movie is heroic, or even particularly good. Christian Bale, playing con artist Irving Rosenfeld, is the closest character we have to a protagonist, but he’s no hero – not only does he scam hundreds of people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, his one “heroic” act (assisting in a government sting) is a scam inside a scam that ultimately benefits him. Amy Adams, as Sydney Prosser/Lady Edith Greensley, is his sidekick and mistress, the Robin to his Batman, equally complicit. Obviously, Mayor Carmine Polito, as played by Jeremy Renner, is corrupt. Jennifer Lawrence, playing the young and volatile Rosalyn Rosenfeld, Irving’s scowling wife, could care less about criminal activity just as long as her nails smell good. Even Richie DiMaso, the FBI agent who enlists Irving to help him pull off ABSCAM, is seduced by both Sydney and the glamour of it all – while Irving might be our protagonist, Richie is our fallen hero, who is unceremoniously fired and expunged from the case after the dust settles.

If you’re wondering what exactly happened in American Hustle, I’m not sure I could tell you the plot point-by-point. (I’m also still not 100% sure how ABSCAM worked, so you can just Wikipedia that if you’re so inclined). Sure, this was a huge downside for many viewers, but for me, the heart of this movie lies in the performances. Bale, Adams, Cooper and Lawrence are each nominated in each major acting category, and for good reason – the depth of character mixed with Russell’s trademark improvisational style results in a quick-witted character study that’s pretty fun to watch. In a year where so many leading men blew audiences away, Bale will be overlooked (which is absolutely okay, considering the work that Matthew McConaughey and Chiwetel Ejiofor have put out this year), but his Irving Rosenfeld, for whom he gained 40 pounds and donned a truly disgusting combover, is both sad and horrible and completely captivating. Adams, who took home a Golden Globe last month, is transformed from the Disney princess we’ve seen in the past – she’s an electrifying, sexually charged dynamo who takes what she wants and leaves no prisoners. Cooper is both hilarious and devastating, and his scene with Louis C.K. are among the funniest in the entire film. Lawrence, who also won a Golden Globe (and who will be vying for the Oscar neck and neck with Lupita Nyong’o), is a total lunatic, but one who’s pretty fucking fun to watch. Is this a great film? Well, maybe not. But the performances and script (and sometimes the lack thereof) elevate it firmly out of mediocrity.

Hustle also did, as it’s worth noting, take home the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture (Comedy), setting it up as a serious contender on Oscar night. It’s poised to potentially upset both Gravity and 12 Years a Slave, even though that sounds absurd, simply because this is the kind of movie the Academy freaking loves. It’s chock-full of crazy, over-the-top, excellent performances; it’s based extremely loosely on a true story (remember The King’s Speech and Argo, everybody?); and it’s a big, colorful, showy spectacle directed by Russell, currently an Academy darling for introducing another Academy darling, Jennifer Lawrence, to Hollywood. Don’t count Hustle out just yet – it could pull the biggest sting of all.

One thought on “Best Picture Profile: American Hustle

  1. Pingback: (Pop) Culturally Informed | Our Guide to the Oscars!

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