Monday, April 7, 2014

American Hustle Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
A fictional film set in the alluring world of one of the most stunning scandals to rock our nation, American Hustle tells the story of brilliant con man Irving Rosenfeld (Bale), who along with his equally cunning and seductive British partner Sydney Prosser (Adams) is forced to work for a wild FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper). DiMaso pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia that's as dangerous as it is enchanting. Renner plays Carmine Polito, the passionate, volatile, New Jersey political operator caught between the con-artists and Feds. Irving's unpredictable wife Rosalyn (Lawrence) could be the one to pull the thread that brings the entire world crashing down. Like David O. Russell's previous films (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook), American Hustle defies genre, hinging on raw emotion, and life and death stakes.
Film (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
As a big fan of director David O. Russell's earlier film Three Kings, I was happy to see this return to form film from him which explores a different group of desperate people looking to improve their lives any way that they can. In the case of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), it's through various scams that started in his childhood (by throwing rocks through windows for his father's glass business), all the way to his middle age attempts to collect small fees from clients in exchange for his providing a bigger one later (which never happens). Those scams along with his dry cleaning business provide for a steady income but not enough for him to have the life he wants. 

That changes when he meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who elevates Irving's scams as "Lady Edith Greensly" with her her fake British accent and fake royal connections that she professes to offer to clients in exchange for cash. They find success both in their illicit schemes and in love even though Irving's marriage to his unbalanced wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) keeps them from moving forward. As much as he wants to leave Rosalyn, who is a walking disaster who frequently sets their house on fire, he doesn't have the willpower and fortitude to actually do it. Part of it is due to his attraction to her and it's also due to his fear of of leaving their child Danny in her care alone.

When FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) catches Irving and Sydney attempting one of their scams on him, he offers them a deal where if they assist him arrest four individuals using their criminal skills, he will let them go. Sydney opposes the deal but Irving realizes that this deal is the only way out for them and he convinces her to go along with it. Very unhappy, Sydney lets Irving know that she's done with him but that she plans on getting closer to Ritchie to find out what's really going on because she's convinced that Irving is going to get them in deeper trouble that he realizes.

Sydney is soon proven right when Ritchie reveals their targets that they are to ensnare which include U.S. Senators and Congressmen, and target number one is Newark Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) whose desperate need to improve his town and the lives of his constituents has left him open to corruption to get the job done. A plan is put into motion to use a fake Arab sheikh as a potential donor to Carmine's plan to revitalize Atlantic City's gambling scene, despite the objections of both Irving and Ritchie's boss Stoddard Thorsen (Louis C.K.). Ritchie's sting operation works so well that bigger and bigger targets become available as the mafia tries to get into the action. It's only then that the flamboyant and confident Irving finally realizes how insignificant Sydney and him really are in the overall big picture, He knows if they're going to escape the mess that he's gotten them into, it's going to put all of his skills to the test.    

It's easy to see why American Hustle was nominated for ten Academy Awards as this is an excellent film that was well directed and is filled with great performances across the board. The fact that it didn't win any of them doesn't reflect on the film itself, but more on the strong competition it went up against this year. This is a very fresh dramedy that handles both drama and humor very well and it's the best looking film of David O. Russell's career. The period details of 1978 is captured perfectly but not overdone and it's fun to see everyone dressed up in the clothes of the time. 

The cast are all brilliant and they are all so good that you can't even single out one of them because they are all so uniformly good in their roles. Christian Bale once again proves that he is a formidable actor who can make even a pudgy unattractive man with a bad combover charismatic. Amy Adams also shows us how versatile she is as an actress with her performance of Sydney who has seemingly forgotten who she really is. It's a far cry from her roles in Enchanted and The Muppets and it's great that she's so talented to be able to jump from genre to genre. 

This film also gives Bradley Cooper one of his best roles and it's nice to see him play a character that isn't polished or as confident as his previous roles. While I didn't care for him in "Alias," since moving to the big screen, I've been a fan of his especially in Wedding Crashers, the first Hangover film, and in the unfairly maligned A-Team, so it's nice to see him take chances like this. Cooper's interaction with Louis C.K. as his boss, provided some of my favorite parts of the movie. I found myself wishing that there was more scenes with just the two of them because they were so funny together and it's those scenes that provide the most laughs in the movie.  

Jennifer Lawrence is fierce in this film, playing a force of nature that's both beautiful to look at and dangerous as well. She is the fly in the soup and Lawrence plays her to the hilt, going right up to the edge but never over. I especially liked her rendition of Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die," while she waits to see how her machinations against Irving will play out. Jeremy Renner makes a corrupt politician both relatable and sympathetic which shows just how talented he is. There's some other great cameos in the movie that I won't spoil but this overall cast is very impressive and it shows how David O. Russell has assembled his own repertory theater troupe from the last couple of his movies that's most impressive. American Hustle is a great movie that shows what happens when people let their greed and hubris get the better of them. As this film proves, everyone is after something and not everyone has their dream come true. 
Video (5 out of 5 stars)
This 1080p (2.40:1) transfer looks fantastic with a crisp picture that delivers on every front. Detail is outstanding with every texture and hair shown in razor sharp definition. Colors are bright and bold which is put to good use with all of the period clothes and decor that are full of brilliant hues. Flesh tones look natural and consistent throughout the movie and the black levels are solid and dark as well. This is a flawless looking transfer with no scratches or discernible digital defects to mar the picture quality.
Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
American Hustle's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is almost just as good as the video quality. The front channel delivers dialogue that is very clear and clean sounding and the rear channels offer a nicely immersive experience. Throughout the movie, the ambient noises are accurate and well prioritized and it really kicks into gear during the disco scene that really brings the lossless mix to life. The music is balanced well with the dialogue and sound effects and overall this is a very good mix.

Extras (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)
For a film that was nominated for ten Academy Awards, you'd think that they would have included more special features, but sadly that isn't the case. I enjoyed these extras but I wish they had included more. All of the extras are in high definition.

  • Deleted and Extended Scenes - We are given eleven deleted scenes including: "Cry British," "Brick," "Carmine On Stage Singing," "Backhand Like a Whip," "Bad Sign," "Stoop to Conquer," "Live and Let Die," "Evil Ways," "Carmine on the Street," "Richie is Duped," and "Carmine Returns Home." All of these were pretty good and it was interesting to see Jennifer Lawrence's full dance number for "Live and Let Die" and the alternate choice that was wisely not chosen, "Evil Ways." I think "Ritchie is Duped" and "Carmine Returns Home" should have been kept in the movie because they add a lot to it.
  • The Making of American Hustle - An almost seventeen minute look behind the scenes of the movie where we hear from director David O. Russell and the cast who talk about makinf the movie and their complex characters. It's all interesting but way too short. 
  • DVD Copy of the Film
  • UltraViolet Digital Copy of the Film

Summary (4 out of 5 stars)
American Hustle is a fun and entertaining movie with a great cast that are all incredible in their roles. Director David O. Russell continues his very successful run after The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook and it will be interesting to see what he does next. This Blu-ray offers some excellent video and audio quality but the extras could have been better. There may be a more loaded Blu-ray down the road, but don't let that stop you from picking up this one as this is a film that you shouldn't miss!
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