September 21, 2015

WATCH ME IF YOU CAN | Maybe American Hustle Wasn’t That Bad

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By MARINA CAITLIN WATTS

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Photo Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

David O’Russell’s 2013 film American Hustle was probably the biggest disappointment of Oscar season that year. It garnered 10 nominations from the Academy and walked away with nothing that evening. The plot was confusing, Christian Bale’s comb-over didn’t get a proper end credit and not even the Robert De Niro cameo could lift my spirits. When brought up in casual conversation, everyone would wince and avoid saying how much they hated it because of the high anticipation it received.

However, when revisited and broken down, Hustle is actually tolerable. After about seven views, I gained a newfound appreciation for the film. Not to say that it deserved all of the awards, but it can be enjoyed given the proper mindset. So before we skip over it as it reruns on HBO for weeks at a time, let’s take a look at the film piece by piece.

The soundtrack: It’s actually pretty amazing. When I bought the album on iTunes, I was upset that every song wasn’t listed and that the rest of the tracks had to be acquired separately. Despite this minor annoyance, it has the perfect combination of groovy, classy and rock vibes. Its eclectic nature makes it work so well with the all-over-the-place nature of the film. Some of it has even become iconic for me; whenever I hear “Jeeps Blues” I think of Christian Bale sitting in that chair with Amy Adams and even wonder myself, “Who DOES start a song like this?” Download the soundtrack for the perfect taste of 1970s music and use it as background noise for your own nefarious dealings.

The costumes: Okay, the hair was a little much.  Christian Bale’s comb-over looked a bit pompous; it was probably big since it’s full of secrets, to be honest. Bradley Cooper had the brilliant idea of wearing curlers for his perm in a scene, which actually wound up being hilarious. He pulls off the perm look very well. 1970s chic was the name of the game, and everyone was dressed to the nines, which made the film look shiny and sleeker than it is for a one-time viewing. The deep V-neck dresses and hair for the 1970s glam look for Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence looked authentic.

The acting: Even though the plot (or lack thereof) takes away from the talent we see on screen, you cannot ignore the star-studded cast. O’Russell created personas for Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Louis C.K. and Robert De Niro specifically with them in mind for their roles.  When casting the film, he wrote each character based on the actor. He also gave them the flexibility to improvise their lines, which worked out for the better.

Other important takeaways from American Hustle are the little scenes and conversations that go on.  I love the back-and-forth that goes on between Bradley Cooper and Louis C. K., as their strained relationship and the ice fishing story is comical and relatable for anyone eager to please their superiors. Or what about Jennifer Lawrence’s blonde screwball character? Her confidence outweighs her common sense which makes her onscreen presence strong. She is anything but a model mother, as her son is a regular spectator to her immature antics.

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Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

The story: Yes, the story is very confusing. The history behind it is probably 10% relevant to the story told on-screen. The last 10 minutes where Christian Bale does a voiceover and explains where everyone wound up after all the hustling is the good stuff. Everything else was over-glamorized in the film as Hollywood has a bad reputation for making history more exciting as a means to sell tickets and win awards. The film opens with “some of this actually happened” as a passive warning regarding its veracity. Originally Hustle was focused on the ABSCAM scandal, but expanded to New Jersey dealings as well. Nonetheless, the historical content was not made very clear and the trailer itself doesn’t even make sense.  After so many viewings of Hustle, I still struggle sitting through the three minute clip of ambiguous conversation and two-second cuts between glamorous celebrities. Viewers get lost in the web of who is hustling who and what the big plan exactly is. Everything becomes more mysterious than Jeremy Renner’s pompadour.

Even though American Hustle was holistically a two-hour nightmare filled with groovy hair and a confusing plot, aspect-by-aspect it holds its own. O’Russell is known to make films that focus on characters. It’s one of those films that are perfect to catch in passing, and not commit to with high expectations. A good portion of the film was improvised; because of this, there is a poignant personality provided by each character. Improv can only carry a film so far, and if Hustle really wanted to become a big success, it should have been directed by Martin Scorsese.

Marina Caitlin Watts is a senior in the College of Agricultural Life Sciences. In addition to writing for The Sun, she has also been published on various film websites along with The Daily Beast. She loves Frank Sinatra and hates decaf coffee. If you need her, she is waiting for Godot. She can be reached at mwatts@cornellsun.com. Watch Me If You Can appears on alternate Fridays this semester.

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