Written by Guillermo Troncoso.
David O. Russell’s latest film is an exuberant, wildly entertaining ride that boasts fantastic turns from its great cast and a confident hand from the writer-director of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook.
American Hustle is a fictionalised account of the FBI ABSCAM operation of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Con-man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his mistress Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are coerced into working for FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). DiMaso aims to bring down the Mayor of Camden, New Jersey, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). Things get complicated fast, with Rosenfeld’s unstable young wife (Jennifer Lawrence) one of many hindrances threatening to halt their plans.
The complications build and build, becoming more elaborate as these poor characters try their best to look out for themselves. Dubious loyalties, moral ambiguities, conniving role-plays and white-collar crimes abound in this sprawling dramatic-comedy. The opening title-card reads, “Some of this actually happened.” A clear indication of the gleeful abandon the film will take in depicting this “true” operation.
David O. Russell brings back some of his past stars in major roles. These four actors are his golden tickets; winning in their A-grade performances. His screenplay, co-written by Eric Singer (The International), has characters written so vividly – and with such good dialogue – that these fine actors more than disappear into their respective roles.
Christian Bale continues his chameleonesque career with another great performance. His Irving Rosenfeld is a far-cry from his Oscar-winning turn as a gaunt drug-addict in O. Russell’s The Fighter. He’s put on weight for this, and is positively convincing as a confident con-man that struggles as much with his poor comb-over as he does with the women in his life. Bradley Cooper continues to impress as an edgy FBI agent that is determined to further his career, all the while struggling with the sexual tension rising with Rosenfeld’s mistress. Jeremy Renner has a smaller role, but he does a fine job as well.
These two fine actresses more than match their male counterparts. Amy Adams gives one of her best ever performances as Sydney Prosser, a self-made woman who is torn with her need for self-preservation and her love for Irving. She’s a layered creation, providing the film with its dramatic anchor – more or less, as the film plays with conveying protagonists, even changing narrators on a whim. Jennifer Lawrence’s role may not be the ultimate focus here, but she nevertheless scores with her portrayal. She goes for gold, providing the film with some hilarious moments while rising above a role that could have come across as a caricature.
The film, while damn entertaining for most of its running time, struggles a bit with some pacing issues. The middle-section slows down, simply repeating points that were driven home during the first third. Also, you may find yourself a little confused as to who is playing who and what the details are regarding these illegal maneuvers. The overall con doesn’t exactly weigh in as heavily as it should, getting lost amongst the abundance of characterization.
There’s an infectious energy that emits from every scene, with fantastic editing that brings us in and out of every sequence with gusto and a wonderful soundtrack that compliments every moment perfectly. American Hustle’s dramatic conclusions don’t quite hit home, but it’s great entertainment. O. Russell crafts a crowd-pleasing film that is as lively and exuberant as the time period it lovingly depicts, and the ensemble cast bring their A-game to match.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10