Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louie C.K., Robert DeNiro
American Hustle is not your average con movie but then again David O. Russell is not your average director. He takes an odd slightly odd premise but thanks to great writing and a solid cast makes a not only a surprisingly good movie but one of the best of the year.
In the late 70s, small-time con artist Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his partner/lover Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) enjoy modest success despite Irving’s complicated relationship with his wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). That all changes one day when Sydney is arrested by undercover FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). Luckily, because Richie is attracted to Sydney he’s willing to make a deal. If Irving and Sydney can help him take down four other criminals in their place then the charges against Sydney will be dropped and left with no other options they both reluctantly agree.
To sell the con, Irving has one of his friends pose as a wealthy Arab Sheik looking to invest in American enterprises and Richie quickly quickly sets his sights on Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), the mayor of Camden, New Jersey who is seeking funds to rebuild Atlantic City. The operation gets more complicated however, when other politicians and the mob get involved.
The acting, for the most part, is top notch and multiple Oscar nominations should be expected. Adams’ character of Sydney is able to play both Bale and Cooper against each other so effortlessly that even I wasn’t entirely sure who’s side she was on until the very end. Her British accent isn’t particularly good but she does it with so much confidence that no one ever questions it and it also plays perfectly into one of the films central themes that “people believe what they want to believe.” It’s highly unlikely that Adams will win the Oscar this year but if there’s any justice she should at least land a nomination.
Cooper plays the FBI agent Richie that could generously be described as “ambitious and eccentric” with the perfect combination of calculating, desperate and occasionally psychotic. Richie is so focused on trying to make a name for himself as an FBI agent and seduce Sydney (whom he believes to be British) that he doesn’t care who he hurts to achieve his goal. This includes but is not limited to Carmine Polito, his seldom seen or acknowledged fiance or even his own boss (whom he at one point physically assaults when he refuses to sign off on one his operations).
For such a relatively small role though, the standout performance is without question Jennifer Lawrence though really at this point this doesn’t surprise me anymore. As Irving’s wife, Rosalyn is understandably jealous of his relationship with Sydney and tries with every wit she has to keep him. Eventually when she realizes that’s not possible she’ll do anything to get back at him and her loose cannon behavior threatens to put everyone in danger.
The only performance that didn’t really sit right with me though was Christian Bale. He performance is less of a supposedly charming con-man and more of a wannabe wiseguy from a bad gangster movie from the 50s. He comes off as too much a weasel to be likable and the movie doesn’t do him any favors by expecting the audience to believe that two attractive women such as Adams and Lawrence would be fighting over him. It’s not all bad though as Bale really sells the inner conflict that Irving feels over scamming Carmine and clearly feels guilty about ruining his life. Since Carmine basically shows himself to be the Jimmy Stewart of corrupt politicians, it’s hard not to sympathize with Irving.
Of course, the writing of Russell and Singer is what truly helps to set American Hustle apart. It manages to be funny without undermining the plot or coming off desperate for laughs. Equally amazing is that the film has so many subplots and love triangles that most writers would be unable to keep them all straight much less make them interesting but Russell and Singer do so easily. I’ve always prided myself at being able to tell how a movie is going to end but this time they thankfully managed to surprise me. This should be the film that finally gets Russell the Academy Award that has been eluding him for so long.
Months before American Hustle was even released it was expected to get many Oscar nominations and I’m happy to say those expectations were well justified. Even though this does appear to be an Academy favorite, if you’re looking for a subtle drama you should probably look elsewhere. Nevertheless, this is still a highly clever, intelligent film that is without a doubt a lot of fun.