Russell says his screwball 'American Hustle' is 'a very soulful story' | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Russell says his screwball 'American Hustle' is 'a very soulful story'

This film image released by Sony Pictures shows, from left, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence in a scene from "American Hustle." The film received 13 nominations for the Broadcast Film Critics Association's 19th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards airing Jan. 16, 2014 on the CW network. (AP Photo/Sony - Columbia Pictures, Francois Duhamel)
December 17, 2013 - 2:00 AM

TORONTO - Given director David O. Russell's recent track record, it's no surprise expectations are high for his latest holiday release, "American Hustle."

The sprawling star-packed thriller — the follow-up to last year's Oscar-winning crowd-pleaser "Silver Linings Playbook" — heads to Canadian theatres this weekend after making it onto a slew of critics best-of-2013 lists and garnering key early awards nominations.

Russell demurs any suggestion the 1970s-set "American Hustle" could be on the same buzz-laden Oscar track as his 2012 feel-good romance starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, or the Oscar run enjoyed by his brutal 2010 holiday release, "The Fighter," with Christian Bale and Amy Adams.

But he does admit his brazen, fictionalized take on the Abscam tale marks a new career benchmark, which he credits in large part to the bonds it cements with returning players Bale, Cooper, Adams and Lawrence, each featured in radically different roles.

"They understand the world they're in and then they can all channel that dream and it allows magical things to happen.... that's what this is," Russell said in a recent interview from New York, describing his core cast as "collaborators" in his vision.

"And this didn't happen to me before in my filmmaking — I feel like all my filmmaking was sort of leading up to this work."

An outlandish no-holds-barred spirit pervades the hair-obsessed, sequin-adorned world of "American Hustle," where an array of hustlers scheme and plot their way to dreams of love and respect.

It's loosely inspired by an actual FBI sting that netted members of Congress for accepting bribes from a fake Arab sheik, but veers in wild directions as it explores desperate people hungry for acceptance.

Bale is nearly unrecognizable as pot-bellied con man Irving Rosenfeld, who is forced to help Cooper's wild FBI agent Richie DiMaso in an increasingly reckless scheme to nab corrupt politicians and casino-skimming mobsters.

Russell says he and Bale sketched their ideas about Irving, a character inspired by a real con man named Melvin Weinberg, in Bale's backyard in Los Angeles about a year ago.

"The film is really about reinvention and survival and that was the larger idea that really interested Christian Bale and me while we were in his backyard — it was not any kind of cynical story but (rather) a very soulful story about people who loved life and loved each other but were facing some enormous predicament," he says, drawing comparisons to the conflicted characters of "Silver Linings Playbook" and "The Fighter."

Adams plays Irving's seductive yet fierce partner Sydney Prosser, a hard-bitten character Russell says he crafted just for the actress, who is better known for playing relatively cutesy romantics in films including "Enchanted," "Julie & Julia," "Leap Year" and "The Muppets."

"I wanted her to be the way she was in 'The Fighter' — people doubted she could do that and I knew she could just from knowing her a little bit — and I kept saying to her: I want to create a role for you," he says.

"I like to cast against type. It's very exciting for the actors, it's very exciting for the audiences and it sort of makes the audience not come in with prearranged expectations, or if they are, they're subverted immediately."

For Russell, strong female characters "are the secret to great movies."

"And I can say that I find women beyond smart — smarter than men and smarter in ways that men are mystified by," he continues.

"I wanted to create for Amy a role that showed every range of her: from her most raw, emotional, stripped-down... to her most glamorous, her most elegant, her most beautiful, her most sexual."

Lawrence, meanwhile, is earning raves as Irving's volatile wife Rosalyn, while Jeremy Renner joins the ensemble as the FBI's hapless target Carmine Polito, a pompadoured New Jersey mayor keen on reviving Atlantic City with ambitious casino development.

It all adds up to a sweeping saga of scams and double-crosses that swings from tragedy to near farce at times.

Russell saying the real story featured even crazier elements, including a fake Arab sheik who looked even less Arabic than actor Michael Pena.

Sometimes striving for as much realism as possible is all you need to find unexpected bursts of comedy, he adds.

"I just completely commit to how a character is behaving or feeling in a moment and the ... humanity in that can become screwball," he says.

"And then you decide when to go for it."

"American Hustle" opens Friday.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2013
The Canadian Press

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