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Friday, March 28, 2014

American Hustle Blu-ray Review

No one can accuse David O. Russell of being a one-note director. He provided a peek at an incestuous relationship in his 1994 debut Spanking the Monkey; allowed us to ride shotgun on Ben Stiller's search for his birth parents in 1996's Flirting with Disaster; parked us ringside for Mickey Ward's rise in 2010's The Fighter; and got Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence to trip the light fantastic in the 2012's Silver Linings Playbook.

Of course, there were plenty of other adventures in between, but the bottom line is: The guy knows how to diversify his portfolio.

Now, he's added something very ‘70s to his resume with American Hustle, a fun, fictionalized version of the FBI's Abscam operation in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Historical accuracy isn't half as important as the time period here, from the soundtrack and the furnishings to Amy Adams' plunging necklines and Bradley Cooper's super-tight curls. (Don't even get me started on what was on Christian Bale's head. That thing deserved its own credits.)

 Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence star in “American Hustle.” Photo: Francois Duhamel/© 2013 Annapurna Productions LLC.

Bale's Irving Rosenfeld is brilliant in more ways than one. He and Sydney Prosser (Adams) are two con artists, who also happen to be lovers. Sydney is a fiery little number with an English accent. Irving has a bad combover and a belly that's about 20 beers shy of a six-pack. If you think that's a mismatched pair, you should see Irving's wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). Despite knowing about Irving's affairs, this gorgeous, young woman won't even entertain the thought of divorce.

The setup is sort of slow, but once Irving and Sydney cross paths with FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper), things really take off -- and also snowball. Gangsters and politicians are caught up in an FBI sting that spirals out of control and has Irving worrying for the safety of everyone involved, including his new buddy, Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner).

American Hustle needs time to set up the characters and the sting, which is why it's a lengthy 138 minutes. However, once the fix is in, the entire thing will grip you in the same vein as a Scorsese flick -- one of the good ones. In fact, American Hustle has a real Goodfellas vibe, but without the body count. The aforementioned soundtrack, the narration, the camera angles, and even the overall flow of the film; it's like a Scorsese film without Scorsese. Some may call it a rip-off, but Russell's influence oozes throughout the whole thing. It's got his humor and his characters, as well as some of his humor in those characters. Irving is truly a sight to behold, but the women are more than window dressing here. And Russell isn't really looking for redemption or sympathy for any of them. He just wants them to be entertaining. Mission accomplished.

Want a more in-depth peek at the film? Check out Beth McCabe's theatrical review of American Hustle.

The Picture

In this Blu-ray's lone featurette, there's a discussion about how important the design is to American Hustle. Of course, you don't need a featurette to tell you that; it's evident in every frame of this 2.40:1 image. There are a few warmish fleshtones, but otherwise the varied color palette pops in every scene. The detail is really what stands out here, though. Everything is super sharp, whether it's tacky wallpaper, tacky clothing or tacky artwork. Sure, not everything in the film is tacky (no really!), but that certainly packs the most punch from an image standpoint. Details on the various actors are just as stellar, whether it's the few hairs on Christian Bale's combover and his bulging stomach, Amy Adams' freckles and strawberry locks, or Jennifer Lawrence's glossy lips and ringlets. It's just a really fun film to watch.

The Sound

Without a doubt, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is working overtime here. The music plays a really big part in the film, but it's not just part of some very ‘70s backdrop. The ELO, Tom Jones, Wings, Elton John and others all come through the surrounds with a real force to it. The dance club scene definitely stands out, as it pumps that volume up just a bit and adds in some booming bass. There are also plenty of ambient sounds. However, the dialogue is the main focus here and it sounds clear and centered throughout.

The Extras
It's completely insane that a movie like American Hustle would come without a commentary track. It seems like someone would have something to say about this film. Instead, this section is pretty light, with 22 minutes of deleted and extended scenes and one lonely featurette. At just under 17 minutes, "The Making of American Hustle" has David O. Russell talking about the inspiration for the film, as well as the design. It also gives all five of the principal stars a few minutes to talk about their respective characters.
Final Thoughts

With all of the accolades and awards' buzz, American Hustle didn't snag a single Oscar. That doesn't mean that it's not a good film. Sure, David O. Russell has taken a few liberties with the style, the characters and the events of Abscam. As Russell says, "some of this actually happened." The movie isn't perfect and neither is this Blu-ray. The extras are very disappointing, but the film and the A/V make this one a must-own.

Product Details
Actors: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer LawrenceDirector: David O. RussellAudio/Languages: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (English), DVS 2.0 (English)Subtitles: English, English SDHAspect Ratio: 2.40:1Number of Discs: 2Rating: RStudio: SonyBlu-ray Disc Release Date: March 18, 2014Run Time: 138 minutesList Price: $40.99Extras: Deleted and Extended ScenesThe Making of American HustlePreviewsStandard-Def DVDDigital Copy

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