A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that American Hustle is an intoxicating, brilliant -- but mature -- drama that will leave viewers breathless with its audacity and streak of humor. There's not a ton of violence or sexual activity, but the themes are intense and adult (reinvention, one-upsmanship, overarching ambition infidelity, an unhappy marriage). The movie also includes brief scenes of drug use and loads of swearing including multiple instances of "f--k."
- Parents say
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What's the story?
Inspired by the real-life story of a con artist who is compelled by the FBI to help snag bigger fish in a criminal pond, director David O. Russell's AMERICAN HUSTLE finds Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a small-time hustler and dry cleaning store owner, taking his game to another level when he meets, teams up with, and falls for Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a formidably smart stripper who helps to refine their scams. But when an ambitious FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) ensnares them, the only way out for Irving and Sydney is to set up a bigger con that would lead to a more valuable prize: a well-meaning but corrupt politician (Jeremy Renner) and a mob boss (Robert De Niro). Complicating matters is Irving's interesting, charming, but bizarrely eccentric wife (Jennifer Lawrence), whom Irving cares for but doesn't want to live with anymore. His step-son is the main reason he's sticking around. But if he and Sydney don't reel in the bigger marks, they're done.
Is it any good?
American Hustle immerses you in its pounding intensity from the very beginning, and it only accelerates from there. The moment we see Christian Bale's paunchy swindler create his intricate comb-over, we know we're in Wonderland territory. Nothing will be as it seems. And what comes next is a joy of non-linear storytelling, conjuring a world that still seems familiar despite being set decades ago. It's bold and operatic and unafraid. The ensemble is fantastic, led by Bale who leaves any vanity at the door to churn out a performance filled with layers. He's criminal and loving and admirable, even in the worst circumstances. Adams is stunning -- there's no other character like her Sydney. You root for them both, as well as Irving's nutty wife, and the politician, Mayor Carmine Pollito, who gets caught in the dragnet.
Just when you think the movie can't get any better, American Hustle pulls another brilliant sleight of hand, sending the plot careening in a new mind-bending direction. You'll find yourself holding your breath often, and not because the characters are pulling some feat-of-physicality stunt. The subjects are grand and complicated, and the story has the makings of a classic heist film. But, at the heart of it all -- and this is what makes it so memorable and insightful -- is a quest for love and partnership.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what makes this movie unique. Have you seen other movies with similar styles or themes? What sets this one apart? What do you know about how the director works?
What makes a movie better for mature viewers -- sexual or violent content or adult-oriented themes? What kinds of movies should teens not see?
- In theaters: December 13, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: March 18, 2014
- Cast: Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence
- Director: David O. Russell
- Studio: Columbia Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship
- Run time: 138 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence
- Last updated: May 14, 2020
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