David O. Russell unveiled the first six minutes of his latest movie, “American Hustle,” during a career tribute at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre on Friday night. And though technical issues with the sound forced the footage to be stopped and restarted, it was clear from watching the opening scenes that the filmmaker is working with the same energetic brio and stylistic command that propelled his last two movies, “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” to best picture Oscar nominations.
“Hustle” opens with a long shot of Christian Bale’s pot-bellied con artist character preparing for a sting operation by fussing and combing and spraying an elaborate hairpiece in a way that recalls Richard Dreyfus sculpting that mound of mashed potatoes into the Devil Towers Monument in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
“When you see him with his hair, that’s one of the themes of the picture,” Russell tells me in a conversation after the tribute. “What that is for yourself and your life, when you’re constructing something. It’s real and it’s not real. It’s both things. It’s the best version of yourself. How long does it serve you and how long does it not serve you?”
From the comb-over, we’re then taken into a hotel room where Bale, his partner (Amy Adams, wearing an insanely plunging neckline) and Bradley Cooper’s unhinged FBI agent try to coerce a New Jersey politician (Jeremy Renner) into taking a cash-filled briefcase while surveillance cameras record them.
Noting Adams’ dress and a similarly revealing leather jacket seen in a publicity still, Russell smiled and said, “I wanted her to wear classic fashion of the ‘70s, and [costume designer] Michael [Wilkinson] took it where he took it. She was game and she’s never been so glamorous or beautiful. She’s not like that of course the whole time, but she wears a lot of glamorous clothes. She has 50 wardrobe changes. Five. O.”
Russell also revealed that Robert De Niro’s role in the 130-minute “Hustle” will be vital, featuring the “Silver Linings” alum in a handful of “important” scenes. (Jennifer Lawrence, another member of the “Silver Linings” ensemble, is in the movie too, playing a volatile housewife.)
“There’s a whole bunch of surprises in the movie actually,” Russell told me, coyly. Adding that since Thanksgiving falls late this year, it appears that “Hustle” will start screening for the media before the November holiday. (The movie opens in theaters on Dec. 13.)
Russell was still writing the film last year while promoting “Silver Linings Playbook” through the awards-season gauntlet. It’s the first time in his career he has made movies in back-to-back years.
“I wouldn’t want to do it every year,” Russell says. “But to have done it this once. ... You know, there are guys like the Coen brothers, I’ve always been impressed by how prolific they are. Or even Woody Allen. Woody loves being in the river too, the river of storytelling and the narrative. That’s what I love. I love being with these characters and their narratives as they’re trying to change them or remake them. Narrative is everything. Without narrative, I don’t know what anything would be, frankly.
“So you strike while the iron’s hot,” Russell continues. " I don’t want to take a break when things are going too well. I’m happiest when I’m telling a story. it’s very exciting to me. It keeps me young.”
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