Award season is in full swing, and the heavy hitters are collecting nominations like it’s a given. One of the films popping up all over the place is David O. Russell’s latest. Building off the renaissance and good will of “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” Russell delivers a film that aims to outdo his recent hits, but finds itself squarely among them. Which isn’t anything but a terrible place to be, considering it feels like a smattering of the two.
Award juggernaut “American Hustle” follows Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a small-time hustler and art-forgery seller who ends up at the mercy of the FBI. When agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) catches Irving and his accomplice and lover Sydney (Amy Adams), he makes them a deal. Help Richie make four arrests and then they can go free. But the further Irving and Richie’s deal goes on, the more complex and more anxious Richie gets. What starts as a small scale sting grows far beyond Irving’s comfort level. Exasperating the issue is Irving’s wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), rightfully questioning his business and causing problems all along the way. When Rosalyn’s involvement grows, things exponentially push Irving and forcing Richie to step further outside his abilities to keep everything contained.
Based on a true story, the film takes time to establish itself in the period. From the clothes to the sets, the cinematography reeks of authenticity. Having big name actors like Bale, Cooper, Adams, and Lawrence all disappear into their respective roles is a rare treat. The caliber of performances helps keep the story engaging. The issue is the attention to detail. Russell’s script drags a bit in the middle, but the third act more than compensates for it.
Of all the roles, this is Bale at his best. He seems to be playing Robert De Niro playing Irving, which appears evident when De Niro cameos in the second hour. Cooper and Adams more than hold their own. Though Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence do great while on screen, they both feel underused. Thankfully, they take advantage of the time they have.
As a whole, “American Hustle” is above average period piece. Though billed as a comedy, the film takes itself too seriously to be anything less than a drama. In fact, it borderlines melodrama at times. But regardless, the “Hustle” is worth the ride. One of the best dramas of the year. 4 out of 5 stars.
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