'American Hustle' Dodges Fact-Based Movie Trap, Eyes Oscar Gold

'American Hustle' Dodges Fact-Based Movie Trap, Eyes Oscar Gold

“Some of this actually happened,” reads a title card at the star of David O. Russell’s upcoming American Hustle. It’s both a confession and preemptive strike at a time when Oscar-bait movies receive intense scrutiny.

It’s also a safe bet that line makes it more likely the film will get some Oscar love in the new year.

Oscar voters pounce on true stories, historical epics and biopics, but they’re alarmed by films which twist the truth to do their bidding. We’ve already seen some attacks against Captain Phillips, a tense pirate saga based on an actual kidnapping. The real-life crew have publicly questioned the heroism of Tom Hanks’ title character, a conversation which could cause some voters to reconsider checking Hanks’ name off in the Best Actor category.

American Hustle might avoid that problem.

Not only does Russell and co. cop to their fabrications up front, but the film’s overlap with the ’70s era ABSCAM scandal avoids the kind of political finger-pointing that might make the film an ideological land mine.

The film, which stars Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Pena, charts a course similar to last year’s Best Picture winner Argo. That film dealt with a true chapter in recent history that had political implications, but it mostly kept ideology out of the narrative. The result? A tense, terrific production fully deserving of its Oscar night coronation.

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