'American Hustle' review: The best Scorsese film that Scorsese didn't direct

'American Hustle' review: The best Scorsese film that Scorsese didn't direct

"American Hustle" (photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures, used with permission)

An A-list cast, compelling story, rich characters and masterful direction make 'American Hustle' one of very best films this year.

In short: Two con artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) are coerced into helping an up-and-coming FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) - and they find themselves dealing with corrupt politicians and dangerous criminals. (watch the trailer)

'American Hustle' is simply one of the best films of 2013. Its rich, complex cast of character dynamically interact with each other in a story that pushes all of them into an increasingly impossible situation.

Each of these colorful characters has their own agenda, but they are forced to work with or against one another in a dangerous scenario that first threatens their livelihoods, their freedom and eventually their lives.

And the none-too-small miracle here is director David O. Russell's ability to pull off this potentially gritty crime story with a brilliantly comedic tone. Russell is the master of blending genres: 'Hustle' is a rare crime drama comedy that gracefully shifts gears between criminal elements, sharp comedic timing and a complex character drama.

'Hustle' has the legitimate dramatic tension between small-time con-men, manipulative authorities and dangerous criminals -- in a story told with great comedy timing. Its comedic tone is completely rooted in the situation or character - which prevents hilarious jokes/moments from undermining the very real stakes in play. The easy way to tell this story about the FBI Abscam operation would be a straight-forward crime drama - but this sharp script adds an impressive degree-of-difficulty in telling a crime story with a comedy take.

All five of the headline stars of 'Hustle' are recent Academy Award nominees - with Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence winning their Oscars by starring in David O. Russell movies. And from top to bottom, this cast is fleshed out with talent bringing their A-game.

Bale's acting range cannot be questioned now: the man has played a charming sociopath ('American Psycho'), a tortured vigilante ('The Dark Knight') - and now, a pear-shaped con artist. Bale's life-long swindler is not a conventional 'hero' - he is a balding, flabby, desperate, philandering con man with a bum ticker. The brilliance of his character and Bale's performance is believing this unlikely, conflicted hero is able to outsmart and outwit everyone around him, despite his own major shortcomings.

Great supporting characters do not sit on the bench - their performances pull focus/steal the show and allow their characters to radically impact the overall narrative. And in 'American Hustle,' that character performance belongs to Jennifer Lawrence.

Lawrence's erratic, combustible bored housewife character is the last to show up on screen, but she is a game changer. Her character performance gives some insight to Bale's character less-than-honorable decisions and her actions shake up the story from time to time. She is a wild card who wonderfully destabilizes an already delicate situation.

Russell stands alongside the great directors - 'Hustle' is his third consecutive film winning over Award Season acclaim. Russell received Best Director Oscar nominations for his past two films - 'The Fighter' and 'Silver Linings Playbook.'

Final verdict: 'American Hustle' is an incredible character driven story and a great example of great dramatic storytelling. The characters are complex and conflicted. The story pits characters against each other, as each of them fight for survival. It is an absolute must-see film.

Score: 5/5

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