By Shay McCleavy
Occasionally you see a film where you hang on every word. Characters clash and a dense plot develops as we peer into the lives of multiple people. It’s bonkers, scary and terrifically funny all at the same time. That is director David O. Russell’s “American Hustle.”
“Some of this actually happened.”
Those are the first words that greet you after the retro opening titles. It’s a great, droll set-up for a film inspired by Abscam, an FBI sting operation in 1978. Though what transpires mirrors actual events, names have been changed and personalities fictionalized. It doesn’t matter anyway, because Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”) has cooked up a wonderful whirlwind of a film.
The story moves between con artists Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), while FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) uses them to earn a name for himself by bringing down politicians, including the unknowing mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). Outside of the operation, Irving’s erratic wife (Jennifer Lawrence) could unknowingly bring the whole operation down. Though the plot is dense, Russell places the heart of film in his large ensemble of A-list actors.
The cast is to die for. Bale provides our way into this world sporting a beer belly and elaborate comb over, giving Irving cautious assertiveness and sharp emotion. Adams, flashing her blue eyes, is tough, calculating, sensitive and incredibly sexy as a partner in crime. Cooper brings comic heat and hubris as the Fed with a temper. Renner is completely likeable as a politician who wants good for his community and is unaware he is stuck between Feds, the mob and con artists. Lastly, Lawrence is all kinds of crazy as Irving’s loose and erratic wife. Even the smaller supporting cast is incredible, especially Louis C.K. whose comic timing is impeccable.
This is also one stylish movie. From its perfectly chosen 70’s soundtrack to its crazy costumes, it’s all pitched to a dizzying heightened reality. It’s bound to make your head spin. As the action rises to a fevered pitch, Russell’s camera swoops in and out with a headlong rush. A sequence involving disco, drugs and desperation will warp your brain before the characters, you and the camera are snapped into sobriety. You are glued to these people. As the plot gets denser, Russell plunges into the heart of his ensemble to create a turbulent and funny ride. Though there are a few bumpy bits and the conclusion ends a bit tidier than one might expect, you just roll with it for a good time.
If you want a film that is bristling with dry and absurd humor, is stylish in a wonderfully garish 70’s kind of way and features some of the best performances of the year, go see this. David O. Russell has created a film about people who hustle for love, respect and truth; but he’s not hustling you out of entertainment.