Sunday, December 22, 2013

"American Hustle": a Mafia double-cross can be funny

American Hustle” (by David O. Russell) starts out with an image of its protagonist, Irving Rosenfeld, played by a 39-year-old Christian Bale that is truly pathetic.  We see “Irving” with an essentially hairless pot belly, so protruding as to invite a machete, putting on his looks (not really a disguise) in some 1970s New York hotel room.  This includes pasting pieces of a wig to his scalp.  His British cohort Syd (Amy Adams) comes into the room and pulls off his wig, to make fun of him.  I thought of a Sunday afternoon in November, 1974, shortly after moving into the City, having brunch at the Ninth Circle in the Village, when a former date and now tormentor bugs me about getting a wig so I can “find a lover”.
  
The film, right off, makes us ponder what actors put themselves through for major parts. The idea of Christian Bale getting a gut for a film is disgusting.
  
The disguise, of course, is part of being a low-ranking con man the New Jersey underworld. Irv has done what it takes to survive, opening a chain of dry cleaners and little pizza places, but wants to get in on gambling.  He is soon introduced to a self-serving FBI undercover agent, Richie DiMaso, a most handsome and dashing Bradley Cooper, the perfect male. 
  
Cooper remains visually perfect in this comedy, as he is gradually undressed.  He even wears curlers to do his hair, and he has a wonder, indestructible matt on his chest that women love. The movie has some late 70s disco scenes with dirty dancing that bring back the longing for all that wonderful music of the time of my own coming of age, like “Yellow Brick Road”, and even a Bond film song, “Live and Let Die”. 
  
DiMaso pressures Irv to go undercover, setting up a situation comedy to parody the old Godfather movies. It may not be saying too much to reach that a double cross and neutralize itself.  You think Bradley Cooper may be perfect, but not this character.
  
A lot of uncredited veterans, including Robert De Niro, make cameos.
  
  
The official site is here
  
The film was made by Annapuma and Columbia, which forsook its triumphant scalar motive during the opening credit for some jazz, which gets supplanted by better disco music later. 

The Washington Post has an article on Dec. 27 about Abscam (in the late 70s to early 80s) by Richard Leiby here
   
I saw the film before a rather full Sunday afternoon audience at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA. I brings back to memories my own years in the 1970s in New York, some critical personal events in the spring of 1978, about the same time as the film.  Many scenes were actually filmed in Massachusetts.  

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