Director David O. Russell’s American Hustle features a cast filled with Oscar winners and hits theaters loaded with award season hype.
Unlike many contenders, however, the film’s funny, unpretentious nature is its greatest attribute.
Despite what anyone says, American Hustle is a comedy through and through, and a damn funny one at that. Its all-star cast gives uniformly
outstanding performances, and Russell’s and Eric Singer’s screenplay keeps a perfect level of zaniness without going over the top.
Leading the cast is Christian Bale as 70s con artist Irving Rosenfeld, who receives a fantastic introduction in film’s opening scene as he
sculpts what Amy Adams’ Sydney Prosser refers to as “a rather elaborate comb over.”
Russell films have given us Bale at his best, and American Hustle may be his most enjoyable performance to date. His Irving is a likable
sleazebag, and Bale’s transformation into this role is all-encompassing.
Irving and Sydney team up to scam hard luck cases with the false promise of loans. They fall prey to a sting operation set up by FBI agent
Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper); a hotshot at the bureau looking to make a name for himself.
DiMaso offers them a deal. If Irving and Sydney help him bust corrupt politicians, the charges will be dropped.
Cooper is another actor who seems to do his best work with Russell, and turns in a really good performance here as his obsession spirals
out of control.
He himself falls prey to Sydney’s overt sexuality, and the rift it creates between Irving and DiMaso is constantly amusing.
Adams’ performance comes close to melodrama at a few points, but it’s an undoubtedly fearless, impressive performance.
There is conning amongst the con artists, and the film makes us wonder whether anyone is actually who or what they portray themselves
as. In the film’s most poignant moment, Irving admits that people con themselves as much as they do others.
Even though there is a lot of backstabbing and deception in American Hustle, the film is smart in never losing its characters for the sake of
plot twists. The characters and performances are the focus of the film throughout.
The team’s main target is Camden, New Jersey Mayor Carmine Pollito. Yet another great performance, this time from Jeremy Renner, Pollito
actually turns out to be the most savory character in the film, and Irving has to coerce him into taking a payoff despite his initial objection.
Pollito and Irving eventually strike a friendship, causing a moral conflict within the con man. Pollito even buys him a microwave or “science
oven,” as Irving dubs it.
He gives it to his wife, who promptly starts a fire for the second time in the film. Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic as Irving’s completely
unstable wife, Rosalyn. Even though she’s on the sidelines for much of the actual plot, she is the centerpiece of several of the film’s
funniest sequences, including a scene where she describes self-help book, “The Power of Intention” to Irving. Never mind the book
actually came out in 2004.
Russell and company steep the film in 70s culture and fashion, with hilarious hair styles and outrageous costume design. Amy Adams’
wardrobe alone would have earned the film its R rating.
Ever since his infamous clash with Lily Tomlin on the film I Heart Huckabees, Russell has emerged as one of the best actor directors in the
business. He routinely draws out great performances from just about anyone he works with.
This is a film filled with humor and wild characterization, and few films do either as well as American Hustle does.
Although themes of the perils of unchecked desire and of self-truth are nicely integrated, this is a really funny dark comedy more than a
drama. It entertains more than it tries to enlighten.
Either way, American Hustle is brilliantly acted, supremely entertaining film. And that’s no con.
* * * *
(out of four)
Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: Eric Singer and David O. Russell
Starring: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams,
Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Louis C.K.
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cinematography by: Linus Sandgren
Released: December 20, 2013; 138 Minutes