Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Things To Do

Review: 'American Hustle' is a con in the hands of real pros

To understand the breadth of disco-era deception laid out in American Hustle, understand that the most honest character in the movie is a politician. Not entirely honorable but compared with the swindle sharks circling, he's Jimmy Carter on Sundays. ∂ Everyone has at least one con going in David O. Russell's kinetically retro, left-field funny film, which last week earned seven Golden Globe nominations. The scams begin with Irving Rosenfeld's toupee and comb-over combo, a small marvel of follicle engineering and vanity. Irving, played by Christian Bale, is a small-time scammer, mostly fake art and ghost loans, until he meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), who seduces him to bigger scores, as slinky femme fatales do.

Their jig appears to be up when Irving and Sydney get stung by ethically bankrupt FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who offers a deal: Set up a few big busts to burnish his career, important people doing shady things, and charges will be dropped. One mark turns out to be the semihonest, populist Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) who thinks he's rebuilding the Jersey Shore, with a necessary hand from the mob.

Then there's Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), Irving's real housewife of Long Island and a piece of work. Her con is keeping Irving paying the bills. Her specialty is saying wrong things to wrong people at right moments for American Hustle's shell game shuffle to accelerate beyond flashy puzzlement to intoxicating grift, its characters revealed by insecurities they're covering up. The con as survival tool, Irving assures when the gold dust settles, is a timeless art.

An opening note to Russell's caper announces: Some of this actually happened. American Hustle appropriately plays fast and loose with facts surrounding the Abscam scandal of the late 1970s, a loopy affair already, with politicians caught in an FBI sting accepting bribes from a phony Middle Eastern sheik. (Former U.S. Rep. Richard Kelly of New Port Richey was among those convicted of bribery and conspiracy.) A swindling couple like Irving and Sydney helped set it up. Names have been changed. Nobody's innocent.

Russell and co-writer Eric Warren Singer lay out these deceits and double-crosses with precision but American Hustle isn't merely a procedural. Defining these outsized personalities, tracing their unconventional connections and affections, is where Russell's movie finds its irreverent heartbeat. Everyone is trying to be someone else, as con artists and undercover cops do, but that's tougher to accomplish with romance, bromance and jealousy in the mix.

Reuniting key actors from his previous movies The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, Russell has a game ensemble at his disposal. Bale adds another startling physical transformation to his filmography, with the prosperous paunch, tinted Aviators and "dese-dem-dose" accent of a street kid who hit it big. Cooper rocks a tight perm and '70s polyester, an intense mama's boy soaking up Irving's knowledge yet never quite getting it.

American Hustle goes from being very good to terrific by emphasizing the dames of the caper, two women in Irving's life who in very different ways nearly ruin it. Adams makes Sydney into a cunning sexual creature, the boldest performance of her career. She's topped by Lawrence's impossibly magnetic turn as Rosalyn, the kittenish catalyst for everything meaningful after the setup, without knowing exactly what she's doing. But Russell does, and every frame of this stylish movie proves it.

Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.

 
Comments
Your guide to St. Pete Pride: What's changed for 2018

Your guide to St. Pete Pride: What's changed for 2018

Pride weekend kicks off in St. Petersburg Friday with a free concert hosted by a RuPaul’s Drag Race star, a parade along the downtown waterfront on Saturday and an expanded expo of vendors and art on Sunday in the Grand Central District that ga...
Updated: 28 minutes ago
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 20

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 20

AMC Summer Movie Camp: The Lego Batman Movie: The summer screening includes a KidsPack of popcorn and snacks. Also taking place at Palm Harbor 10 in Palm Harbor and Regency 20 in Brandon. 10 a.m., Centro Ybor 10, 1600 E Seventh Ave., Tampa. $4. (813)...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Candidates rush to fill void left by Murman’s withdrawal from District 7

Candidates rush to fill void left by Murman’s withdrawal from District 7

TAMPA – The chance to run for an open seat on the Hillsborough County Commission doesn't come along often.That might explain why there are now 10 wannabe commissioners vying for the countywide District 7 seat.Democrat Mark Nash became the ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
RuPaul’s Drag Race star Coco Montrese on St. Pete Pride, the Pulse shooting and compassion from police

RuPaul’s Drag Race star Coco Montrese on St. Pete Pride, the Pulse shooting and compassion from police

Coco Montrese is best known as the RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5 lip-sync queen who came back a record four times to win with fierce performances. But longtime Tampa Bay drag performer Kori Stevens just calls Coco a "hometown girl." As head of entertai...
Updated: 2 hours ago
My husband has been on the ketogenic diet for three months. Here’s how he does it.

My husband has been on the ketogenic diet for three months. Here’s how he does it.

This week I wrote about something with which I have become very familiar: the ketogenic diet. If you’re like, "Huh?" you are where I was three months ago, before my husband, Phil, embarked on the weight-loss regimen. The keto diet is a high-fat, low-...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Hillsborough Rep. Jack Raburn won’t seek re-election in House District 57

Hillsborough Rep. Jack Raburn won’t seek re-election in House District 57

LITHIA — State Rep. Jake Raburn hasn't had a challenger since the Republican first won the District 57 seat in 2012.Now he has an opponent: Valrico's Debbie Katt is a software development engineer and political newcomer who has qualif...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Compulsive video-game playing could be mental health problem

Compulsive video-game playing could be mental health problem

GENEVA — Obsessive video gamers know how to anticipate dangers in virtual worlds. The World Health Organization says they now should be on guard for a danger in the real world: spending too much time playing. In its latest revision to a disease class...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Review: On ‘Everything Is Love,’ Beyonce and Jay-Z emerge from chaos defiant, triumphant

Review: On ‘Everything Is Love,’ Beyonce and Jay-Z emerge from chaos defiant, triumphant

In 2016 Beyoncé dropped Lemonade, a culture-quaking song cycle about her troubled marriage to Jay-Z, and more broadly about the black female experience in America. It was her best and most meaningful work, and it was nominated for Album of the Year a...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Jobsite’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ should be more gripping than it is

Jobsite’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ should be more gripping than it is

TAMPA — The virtues of Dancing at Lughnasa, with which Jobsite Theater closes its season, are many. This drama by the celebrated Brian Friel opened in 1990 to much acclaim. It captures a family’s joys and sadnesses, and the quickness with which one s...
Updated: 7 hours ago
XXXTentacion, controversial Florida rapper and singer, shot dead at 20

XXXTentacion, controversial Florida rapper and singer, shot dead at 20

The last words posted to XXXTentacion's Instagram Stories on Monday afternoon: "planning a charity event for this weekend Florida!"Whatever it was, it would have been huge. The 20-year-old singer-rapper was among the biggest — and most controve...
Published: 06/18/18