I’ll be honest with you, dear reader: There were times during the making of American Hustle that I wondered if it was all just an elaborate front for a Sony-sponsored slumber party thrown by director David O. Russell, a fun-filled night of dress-up in which Russell and several of his favorite actors (including Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence) raided Mom and Dad’s closet for groovy seventies fashions and then staged an elaborate, truly outrageous hair show. It would have been an appropriate ruse, given that the movie is about pulling outsize long cons, but no: Turns out American Hustle is a bona fide, honest-to-goodness feature film, and it screened for the very first time in Los Angeles yesterday (with Russell and most of his cast in attendance), leaving only The Wolf of Wall Street as this awards season’s final movie to unspool for press. Though reviews are still embargoed, here are seven things we can already tell you about American Hustle.
What It’s About
If you’re just now catching up, the seventies-set American Hustle is loosely based on the real-life ABSCAM scandal, which ensnared several members of Congress for taking bribes; the title card that begins the movie teases, “Some of this actually happened.” In Russell’s telling, the sting comes about when an ambitious FBI agent (played by a curly haired Cooper) enlists two con-artist lovers (Bale and Adams) in a bribery scam that will take down a kind-hearted but susceptible New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner). In addition to the ABSCAM operation, both Bale and Adams are pulling some cons on the side: The tomcatting Bale’s got a hot-tempered wife at home (Lawrence), while Adams is a former stripper from New Mexico who’s forged an upper-class identity that comes complete with a posh British accent.
Russell considers American Hustle the third part of his own reinvention, one that began with The Fighter and now, after the Oscar-winning Silver Linings Playbook, makes him something of a study when it comes to tightly wound East Coast characters trying to eke out their small place in the world. “I love romance, I love rhythm, and I love the way people talk and dress deeply,” said Russell. “That enchants me.”
Everyone Is Playing Against Type
Russell clearly delighted in his counter-intuitive casting: Bale gained 50 pounds and donned a fake comb over and Austin Powers chest rug to play his seventies sleazeball, Cooper sublimated his Sexiest Man Alive good looks and curled his hair to hilarious effect as the live-wire FBI agent who finds himself attracted to Adams, while the former Enchanted star — who’s so often cast in good-girl roles — sexes herself up considerably for American Hustle, offering up enough side-boob in her plunging dresses to power an entire Huffington Post vertical. (Adams says her 3-year-old child is already razzing her for the role: Every time they pass a poster for the film, her daughter asks, “Mommy, why are you showing your boobs?”)
Robert De Niro and Louis C.K. Are Also in This Movie
You wouldn’t know it from the trailers, but an unbilled Robert De Niro cameos in American Hustle as a wary mobster who gets entangled in the ABSCAM scheme. (It’s not exactly playing against type, but one suspects De Niro was doing Russell a solid after earning an Oscar nod for Silver Linings Playbook.) Even better, Louis C.K. has a supporting role as Cooper’s superior at the FBI. I don’t want to spoil too much, but Cooper has a fight scene with Louis C.K. in which he smacks him in the head with a telephone; later, after the two are in a better place, a giddy Cooper simulates humping him. What I’m trying to tell you is that you ought to start anticipating that GIF set right now.
There Is a Scene in Which Jennifer Lawrence Sings “Live and Let Die”…
… while wearing yellow rubber gloves and an absolutely tremendous updo. (It’s one of several singing scenes in the movie; Russell says he added a bit where Renner belts out the Tom Jones classic “Delilah” because he was so charmed when Renner sang on Saturday Night Live.) If you need even further enticement when it comes to instant-classic J. Law moments, read on.
Yes, Jennifer Lawrence Kisses Amy Adams
Lawrence and Adams don’t share much screen time in American Hustle — the former is Christian Bale’s surly wife, and the latter is his sexy mistress, and he therefore endeavors to keep them as separate as possible — but when they do meet up in the middle of the movie, sparks inevitably fly. The scene takes place in a hotel bathroom, and after the two glamorously attired women throw plenty of pointed barbs at each other, Lawrence unexpectedly lurches forward to plant a long, sustained kiss on her adversary’s lips. As she teeters away, a shocked Adams stands stock still, another woman’s lipstick smeared all over her mouth. “I don’t take credit for a lot of things,” Adams noted after the movie, “but that was my idea.” Russell called it “a period to their toxic good-bye,” but Adams mused, “Maybe I just wanted to kiss Jennifer. She’s so cute!”
The Year of Heavily Redubbed Roles Continues
Three’s a trend! After Jodie Foster re-recorded her Elysium role to sound slightly less French, and Cameron Diaz was called in for ADR once her character in The Counselor proved too vocally similar to Rihanna, American Hustle gives us another actress with great big gobs of dialogue piped in after the fact. This one’s a little tricky: Amy Adams plays a character who’s affecting a British accent to better sell her schemes, but for the first twenty minutes of the movie, in all the scenes in which Adams is supposed to be speaking in her normal voice to her confidante and lover Christian Bale, her dialogue is distractingly dubbed. Russell explained after the screening that he actually asked Adams to use a British accent in many of the early scenes — it seems they weren’t sure while shooting how far they should take her character’s accent ruse. They may still be figuring it out: According to Russell’s editor, they’ll be tweaking the movie up until its December 13 release date.
Will It Shake Up the Oscar Race?
Russell’s last two films were nominated for Best Picture and earned nominations (and even awards) for all the actors who came back for American Hustle; it’s only fair, then, to wonder whether this one will continue his hot streak. Let me start with the two actors who I think have the best odds of being nominated: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Cooper is absolutely terrific in the movie, and at times he’s the only truly sympathetic character (perhaps even more so than Russell intended, given the way events in the movie shake out). It’s an incredibly amped performance that feels distinct from Cooper’s Oscar-nominated Silver Linings Playbook role; expect him to squeeze into the race for Best Supporting Actor. And then there’s J. Law: After the film ended, the blogger in front of me mused out loud, “Is Jennifer Lawrence gonna get another Oscar?” I wouldn’t go that far, but she’s likely to score a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the very least, since her troublemaking character provides some of the movie’s best moments (even if her accent sometimes feels a little shaky).
It’s going to be a little bit harder for Bale and Adams. The former will be trying to break into the most crowded Best Actor category in recent years, and though he gives a fully committed, transformative performance, Bale’s character takes a backseat in the second half of the movie. Adams might have a better shot at a nomination; I heard some mixed reviews aimed her way after the movie, but the Academy loves Adams (over the last eight years, she’s been nominated four times), and there’s no denying that she has a ton to play here.
And then there’s Picture, Director, and Screenplay. Will American Hustle pull these three off? I suspect so. You could say that the film is still a little woolly and that several scenes could use a little bit more refinement in the editing room, but I felt the exact same way about Django Unchained last year, and those criticisms proved no impediment to Academy voters. Whether the movie can actually pull off an Oscar win is a whole other question, but if there’s one point that American Hustle drives home repeatedly, it’s that you should never, ever count someone out: They might just have a big surprise up their sleeve, and they’re simply waiting for the perfect time to play it.