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American Hustle: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Review

American Hustle (2013) movie poster American Hustle

Theatrical Release: December 13, 2013 / Running Time: 138 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: David O. Russell / Writers: Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell

Cast: Christian Bale (Irving Rosenfeld), Bradley Cooper (Richie DiMaso/Robert Spencer), Amy Adams (Sydney Prosser/Lady Edith Greensly), Jeremy Renner (Mayor Carmine Polito), Jennifer Lawrence (Rosalyn Rosenfeld), Louis C.K. (Stoddard Thorsen), Jack Huston (Pete Musane), Michael Pena (Paco Hernandez/Sheik Abdullah), Shea Whigham (Carl Elway), Alessandro Nivola (Anthony Amado), Elisabeth Rohm (Dolly Polito), Paul Herman (Alfonse Simone/Ed Malone), Said Taghmaoui (Irv's Sheik Plant/Al from Queens), Matthew Russell (Dominic Polito), Thomas Matthews (Francis Polito), Adrian Martinez (Julius), Anthony Zerbe (Senator Horton Mitchell), Colleen Camp (Brenda), Zachariah Supka (Young Irv), Robert De Niro (Victor Tellegio - uncredited)
American Hustle is one of DVDizzy.com's Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).American Hustle ranks 4th in our list of the Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).

Buy American Hustle from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet • DVD + UltraViolet • Instant Video

For the third time in four years, David O. Russell has directed one of the best films of the year. American Hustle reunites Russell with four focal cast members of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, all of whom either won or were nominated for an Oscar for those films.
Despite the tall expectations rising from that track record and a theatrical release date just before Christmas, this latest collaboration is as much of a dream as it sounds like, making it one awards contender to completely live up to its hype.

After dramatizing the 1990s in The Fighter and the end of 2008 in Silver Linings, Russell turns his attentions to the late 1970s here with co-writer Eric Warren Singer (The International). American Hustle is styled accordingly and fitted with tunes from the period while acclimating the director to true crime, a genre he hasn't previously attempted. Russell does not bind himself to the facts of the FBI's Abscam sting operation, nor does he let its weight stifle his rare gift for humorous drama. The film is consistently funny enough to condone the Golden Globes' insistence on Comedy or Musical classification, a move that still saw it triumphant over stiffer competition than usual (and than what the Drama category had to offer).

Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), and Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) prepare to make a big transaction in "American Hustle."

Hustle opens with the amusing image of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) getting his combover in order, a ballet that requires patience, precision, a patch of fake hair and some glue. Bale has once again committed to his craft for Russell, this time transitioning from the frail Bruce Wayne of The Dark Knight Rises to a fat middle-aged man whose protruding gut and meaty hands require no prosthetics. Irving is the owner of a chain of New York area dry cleaners. He's also a dealer of forged artwork and a con man who preys upon the desperate, promising them, as no other financial institution would, some capital in exchange for $5,000 and plenty of collateral. The scam, which Irving never makes good on, gets his lover and partner in crime, Edith Greensly (Amy Adams), into trouble with undercover FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper).

After subjecting Edith to days in a bed-less, window-less cell, Richie pitches the one way she can be helped: having Irving and Edith use their swindling expertise to expose to conviction bigger corruption around the Tri-State Area. The operation sets its sights as high as Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), a beloved New Jersey mayor whose trust and friendship Irving quickly wins.

The sting operation involves someone posing as a wealthy sheik (sometimes Michael Peña) who is willing to do under-the-table business with politicians. Complicating the work of Irving, the sometimes-British Edith, and Richie is the fact that the three collaborators are simultaneously engaged in a love triangle. Edith, who's also known as Sydney Prosser, seems ready to leave Irving for the exciting, permed Richie. It's tough to blame her since Irving can't seem to part with his not completely stable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), whose young son he has adopted and is helping to raise.

Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) gets his comb over just right. Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) and Edith Greensly/Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) prepare to blow off steam with a night of dancing at Club 54.

In composition and setting, American Hustle recalls Argo, Ben Affleck's crowd-pleasing Iran hostage caper that managed to win 2012's Best Picture Oscar over more traditional and timely fare. Whether Argo's victory over stuffier dramatic fare last year prevented a repeat of a similar choice, Hustle wound up losing the industry's top prize to a "more important" and entirely inferior historical film. In fact, Hustle got completely shut out of the Oscars after drawing ten nominations, tying Gravity for the most of any 2013 release. Getting recognized in all but one category in which it was eligible (the Makeup and Hairstyling award that it clearly deserved to win), Hustle was evidently loved by the industry, just not enough to keep it from leaving empty-handed.
That fate is not unprecedented; The Gangs of New York and the Coen brothers' True Grit each similarly went 0 for 10 at the Oscars, while two films (The Color Purple and The Turning Point) went 0 for 11.

I take comfort in American Hustle joining the ranks of deserving Best Pictures that lost, a class I dubbed "Appealing Alternatives" and explored as I went through most past Best Picture winners a few years back. Most years have such movies and lists of all-time greatest films tend to include more losers (e.g. Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Sunset Blvd.) than winners. Speaking of awards, has anyone else noticed that the Golden Globes, long a laughingstock for their celebrity tastes and questionable choices, have started being more fun and less predictable than the Oscars? It could just be a two-year fluke; after all, this is the same organization that completely snubbed the musical comedy The Muppets in 2011 (Disney's lack of a real campaign isn't blameless) and which nominated The Tourist and Alice in Wonderland in 2010. But between 2012's superior Best Director lineup and this year's deserving winners compared to the Oscars' predictable and unimaginative choices, I think I may need to set aside more enthusiasm for mid-January than late February in 2015.

Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence) is not pleased to at last lay eyes on Irving's mistress. Beloved Camden, New Jersey mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) is persuaded by Irv to give this rebuilding deal another chance.

Once again, Russell has drawn dynamite performances from a highly talented cast. Actors of this caliber have their pick of Hollywood's most prestigious projects, but the decision to return to Russell is a no-brainer, since no one else in town has screenplays as human or characters as three-dimensional. Each of the lead roles and even many of the smaller ones afford actors an opportunity to stretch and prove themselves.
Everyone has a bold 1970s hairdo and fashion sensibility, an accent, and a complex backstory or family life. In a lesser film, such flourishes might distract or overshadow the story. Happily, this extraordinary company ensures that style complements substance instead of trumping it.

With this film, Russell announces himself as a Martin Scorsese fan (what filmmaker isn't?). Hustle recalls the crime classics Goodfellas and Casino. Like those, it is full of wonderful texture and period detail. That said, many a poor film has emulated Scorsese's opuses down to Ray Liotta-esque voiceover. While comparisons are inevitable, Russell doesn't lean too heavily on Scorsese's playbook. Though plentiful, profanity isn't quite wall to wall. As the MPAA's R rating explains, violence is brief. Apart from a bloodless blink and miss moment, there isn't a single gun fired and the most graphic conflict involves a telephone and is played for laughs. Russell also doesn't aspire to Scorsese's epic runtimes. At 138 minutes, Hustle is only a little longer than Russell's other films and exactly as long as it needs to be. There isn't a moment in this film I would be okay losing. The homage to Scorsese even seems to carry a blessing, as -- possible spoiler alert -- Robert De Niro makes an unadvertised and arresting appearance as a Miami kingpin who feels like he could be an aged version of one of his mobster characters. (For those keeping track, Russell has now given De Niro two of his best film credits since the actor's last Scorsese film almost twenty years ago.) That moment has the added humor of De Niro staring down Bale, who is very clearly channeling him here.

Dazzling with compelling, unpredictable storytelling, rich personalities, technical splendor, inventive camerawork, and so much flavor, American Hustle delights in just about every way it can. Silver Linings became only the 14th film -- and the first in over thirty years -- to pick up nominations in all four of the Oscars' acting categories. Back in December I wrote that I would be sorely disappointed if Hustle didn't repeat the feat. Not only do Bale, Adams, Cooper and Lawrence deserve such recognition for their excellent work, but their roles so perfectly conform to the categories they're being advocated for. In fact, two-time nominee Renner wouldn't be out of place joining Cooper in the Supporting Actor field, as unlikely as that would be. Though many experts expected Bale and possibly Adams to miss out on a nomination, they all came through (minus Renner), giving Russell never before done back-to-back acting category sweeps. By Oscar night, Adams was seen as the most believable challenge to Cate Blanchett's dominance and it was widely accepted that Lawrence would lose to Lupita N'yongo simply because she was 23 and just won Lead Actress for Silver Linings last year, not to mention she has the whole fame and fortune thing going for her.

Russell's previous two films not only fared well with critics and award shows, but also with the general moviegoing public. Hustle turned Russell's self-proclaimed "comeback trilogy" into a three-peat. It should end its run with just over $150 million domestically and over $250 million worldwide, a bigger hit than either of the first two films on a fairly modest production budget of $40 million. Domestically, Hustle cracked the top 20 of 2013 and became Sony's top-earning release of 2013. It not only outperformed all major Oscar contenders but Gravity but also such tentpoles as The Wolverine, Anchorman 2, The Hangover Part III, and its twice technical category victor The Great Gatsby.

The fourth biggest draw of the holiday moviegoing season, American Hustle hits home video on Tuesday in a DVD and the two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet combo pack we review here.

Watch clips from American Hustle:
Science oven • Dinner • Power Drunk

American Hustle: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English) Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: March 18, 2014
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $40.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($30.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

American Hustle has a filmic look, occasionally supplying the light grain of a '70s film (most noticeably at the start, where the film opens with a '70s Columbia Pictures logo). The Blu-ray's 2.40:1 presentation does that justice while also dazzling with the clarity and sharpness we expect of a 2013 film in 1080p. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix is equally superb, distributing dialogue and period needle drops crisply and purposefully. For being such a global hit and a Sony release, these discs are unusually deficient in foreign language options, offering only English soundtracks and subtitles. Of course, no dub could match the rhythms of the film's language.

Included among the deleted scenes are extended and alternate versions of Jennifer Lawrence's housecleaning lip-synch. Christian Bale has a chat with director David O. Russell during the Boston filming of "American Hustle."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Each disc contains just two bonus feature listings, but both are substantial.

First up is a collection of 11 deleted and extended scenes that's stronger and more notable than most sections. It includes a 5-minute scene establishing the bounds of Sydney's British accent, some unseen moments near the end, and quite a bit more of Mayor Carmine Polito. Carmine's tour of Camden for the Sheik is spoiled by young troublemakers, Irv tries to get him a legitimate alternative offer for rebuilding Atlantic City that goes disastrously,
Carmine sings Climax Blues Band's "Couldn't Get It Right" with a band on stage at the fundraiser and is later confronted by his neighborhood. J-Law fans will appreciate getting two of her housecleaning musical performances (only lip-synched, however) in their entirety, an extended version of the film's "Live and Let Die" and an alternative one (more dancing than mouthing) of Santana's "Evil Ways." While none of these would have improved the film (and several would have weakened it), they're all interesting to see on a production of this caliber.

Next, we get "The Making of American Hustle" (16:35), which isn't as generic or routine as it sounds. This featurette celebrates the making over of the procedural that Eric Warren Singer into the "David O. Russell movie" it tended up as. The director explains his interest in characters, worlds, humanity, heart and soul, priorities that his producers and cast all voice appreciation for. The piece comes to touch on the period production and costume design, defining what went into conveying the post-Sexual Revolution, pre-AIDS time of 1978. Aside from one mention by Bale, it steers clear of the real Abscam operation on which the film is based (while still calling itself a work of fiction). The biggest shortcoming of this release, it could have been remedied with even a short licensed clip of Mel Weinberg (the real life Irving Rosenfeld) showing how carefully Bale drew on his mannerisms and look.

Watch clips from "The Making of American Hustle":
Chaos • Perfect Moment in History • Contradictions

The menu loops a bit of ELO's "10538 Overture" over the poster/cover lineup. The DVD assigns a different one of those character poses to most of the silent submenus. The Blu-ray both supports bookmarks and also resumes playback.

The discs open with trailers for The Monuments Men and Inside Llewyn Davis, followed by a "Be Moved" Sony promo. The Previews section supplies access to those three as well as trailers for Captain Phillips and The Monuments Men. Sadly, American Hustle's own trailer is absent. It's too bad that branches besides Sony Pictures Classics aren't as diligent about including films' trailers on their own discs.

The side-snapped keepcase, which forgoes Sony's usual reverse side artwork slides into a glossy, embossed cardboard slipcover. Inserts provide your code for the complimentary Digital HD UltraViolet download and advertise the film's soundtrack and other Sony Blu-rays.

The title "American Hustle" is laid over this shot of Richie (Bradley Cooper), Sydney (Amy Adams), and Irving (Christian Bale) walking into an important meeting.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

American Hustle is the best film of 2013 by a wide margin, offering characters, story, texture, technique, and acting far beyond anything else. The Blu-ray holds fewer extras than you might expect for such a heavyweight film, but what's here is terrific and I would highly recommend this release even without them. In short, this is sure to rank among this decade's best films and that alone elevates this combo pack to a level where even selective collectors ought to treat themselves to this set and the opportunity to revisit this rich masterpiece.

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Related Reviews:
Directed by David O. Russell: Silver Linings Playbook • The Fighter
2013 Oscar Best Picture Nominees: The Wolf of Wall Street • Dallas Buyers Club • Captain Phillips • Gravity • Nebraska • Her
2013 Oscar Contenders: Blue Jasmine • Before Midnight • The Great Gatsby • 20 Feet from Stardom
New to Blu-ray: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire • Saving Mr. Banks • Frozen • George Washington
Christian Bale: The Dark Knight Rises • The Prestige | Bradley Cooper: The Hangover • The Hangover Part II • The Hangover Part III
Amy Adams: The Master • Julie & Julia • Enchanted • Trouble with the Curve • Man of Steel • The Muppets
Jennifer Lawrence: The Hunger Games • Winter's Bone • X-Men: First Class | Jeremy Renner: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Oscar Best Picture Losers: Sunset Blvd. • Zero Dark Thirty • Toy Story 3 • True Grit • Taxi Driver • Hugo • Jaws
Argo • The Hoax • Zodiac • The Grifters • Ocean's Thirteen • Lovelace • The Iceman • The Ice Storm

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Reviewed March 14, 2014.



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