By Carl Kozlowski
Everyone has a dream in life. And if they’re serious about it, they’ll do almost anything to make it happen. Two new movies follow people who use highly creative means to pull off their impossible dreams. Though these two movies are very different in style and genre, they both push and pull on our signature American heartstrings of hardworking, determined go-getters, looking to go big.
Distinctive writer-director David O. Russell (The Fighter, The Silver Linings Playbook) satirizes the 1970s U.S. government sting known as Abscam in his latest film, American Hustle, featuring the most unpredictable ensemble acting of the year, with Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and a very big surprise cameo all coming together to work a series of cons that will leave heads spinning.
Hustle is filled with fast-talking dreamers, each looking to get ahead in their own desperate yet often funny way. It follows the story of Irving Rosenfeld (Bale), a New Jersey con artist, and his mistress/con partner Sydney (Adams) and how a highly ambitious FBI agent named Richie DiMaso (Cooper) uses them to bust a bunch of congressmen and Newark Mayor Carmine Polito (Renner) for taking bribes in a notorious real-life US government sting operation called Abscam.
The wild card in this bunch, however, is Irving’s wife, Rosalyn (Lawrence), who got stuck married to the shady loser at way too young an age and is constantly looking for any way to make his life miserable. As the stakes get higher in both the sting and in the personal lives of its participants, it’s the seemingly naïve yet extremely willful Rosalyn who stirs things up to dangerous levels that could bring everything down like a house of cards.
American Hustle is the perfect name for this movie, because each and every one of its superbly drawn and colorful characters is indeed hustling their own unique dreams: to be the best at art forgeries, to be the best federal agent, or the best mayor. Writer-director Russell shoots them all with a comically outsized swagger in their public personas, yet a haunting vulnerability in their private moments.
Cast members rise to their respective challenges, leaving viewers with an embarrassment of riches to enjoy from the year’s best ensemble of actors. The terrific late-’70s period details and costumes meld with a perfect soundtrack of the era’s overly earnest pop hits to fully immerse viewers in the story’s time and place, and Russell bring it altogether with fun zest that recalls Boogie Nights. But unlike that hard-R classic, Russell keeps things classy within the confines of its R rating, keeping the language and romantic shenanigans of Hustle at a level that any adult should be able to handle without offense.
And speaking of keeping things “classy,” Anchorman 2 came out Wednesday, following months of mind-blowing hype that included a seemingly endless stream of Dodge ads featuring star Will Ferrell as the infamous Ron Burgundy. I’ll just say that the movie manages to live up to the hype and then some, offering a full two hours of gut-busting antics packed with absurd references and surreal comedy that escalates the promise of the original 2004 film in every possible way. Nine years is a long time to wait for a sequel, but I guarantee you, you won’t be disappointed. “Ron Burgundy is a sellout,” Adam McKay, the film’s writer-director, told Reuters in an interview. “The whole joke of the character is that he is a complete and total sellout, so it makes us laugh to see him doing the news and selling cars.” Anchorman 2 picks up the story right where it left off with the first installment of the suit-clad and fat-mustached Ron Burgundy, described as “more man than the rest,” when he has been reduced to becoming an alcoholic SeaWorld announcer after losing his anchor job to his now estranged wife, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate’s character). To his surprise, he gets scouted for a global news cable channel and is gloriously reunited with his epic news team played by Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and David Koechner, as they take on New York City. I won’t spoil a single joke, because this is a movie in which every joke needs the element of surprise. Just see it if you need a thousand laughs.