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Can You See the Real Me?

There was so much to like about American Hustle (2013)!  The performances by Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence were all strong in subtle ways. The story by Eric Singer and David O. Russell–about an improvised sting operation run by a rogue FBI agent with two ex-cons– was terrific. And David O. Russell’s direction was assured and well paced. The clip below shows his mastery of visual storytelling as it gradually reveals the couple’s relationship and the film’s theme of pretending. The screenplay continually questions what or who is “real” and in this strange but moving dress-up scene we paradoxically see this couple as themselves– falling in love in a dry cleaner’s store as the plastic-wrapped clothes encircle them in a world of their own.

Yet as a whole the movie didn’t cohere for me. I wasn’t sure where this messy engaging story was going, which was part of the point of the twists and turns of the plot. But what was the main focus or idea of the film? Irving (Christian Bale) and Sydney (Amy Adams) learning how to be real with themselves and each other? The conflicts that occur when one person’s reality clashes with another’s?  The failures that spring from good intentions? There are lots of ideas played out here, but no clear focus to the whole–which is a shame because the parts are so good.

Published incontemporarydramafilm


  1. Thanks! I saw this article in the NY Times about the costumes for the film and was struck by its relevance for that dry cleaning scene: the furs, the posing, the “characters playing characters.”…

  2. Tania Kleckner

    Spot on Vicky! We saw this last night and i also thought the performances were terrific but the plot was not cohesive for me either. Thanks for crystalizing my thoughts!

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