“American Hustle” is a three-ring circus of a movie with juggling extraordinaire by ultimate ringmaster David O. Russell, the film’s director. Somehow he makes it all work. Written by Russell and Eric Singer, “American Hustle’ is loosely based on the Abscam FBI sting of the late 1970s. The film localizes the story and takes us behind the scenes for the New Jersey aspect of the operation.
Christian Bale is Irving Rosenfeld, who owns a legitimate dry cleaning firm, but runs financial scams on the side. He meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) at a Long Island pool party and the two connect over a shared love for Duke Ellington. Although Irving is married, the two become a romantic couple. She joins forces with Irving in his illegal activity and all goes well until they scam the wrong person, undercover FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). He’s looking to make it big in the Bureau and in exchange for no prosecution, Irving and Sydney agree to help him with his plan to bring down Camden Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) as well as other politicians.
Actors seem to do their best work in David O. Russell’s films and “American Hustle” is no exception. Christian Bale, with a paunch and comb-over to match Donald Trump in its elaborate badness is terrific. He’s done some amazing work over the past few years—each role completely different from the next—and this is no different. There’s not a false note in his performance…Bronx accent and all. Amy Adams gives a wonderful portrayal as Irving’s soul mate and partner in crime. Sexpot is not the word with which one would normally associate her, but when she gets the chance to turn on the glam and sex appeal—yowza! She is utterly believable as a classy English criminal or sexy girlfriend to both of the two male leads. And when she needs to be tough as nails, Adams delivers. Bradley Cooper’s Richie is very good—perm’d hair and all—as the conniving agent on the rise…he hopes. Cooper seems to have more complicated, quick dialogue than anyone else and is terrific with it all. He does a great job in the comedic scenes with Patsy Meck who plays his mother. His Bureau work is also very good, especially in the scenes with Louis C.K. (who is also wonderful) as his boss, Stoddard Thorsen. Jeremy Renner is fine as the targeted mayor who wants to revitalize Atlantic City and is very convincing in his sense of betrayal. Finally, there is Jennifer Lawrence as Irving’s wife, Rosalyn. To say she is spectacular is an understatement. Lawrence may be her generation’s most versatile actress. She can play a broad range of ages and her commitment to each part makes us believe her in whatever she does. In “American Hustle” she makes spectacular entrances in a variety of scenes—talk about opening doors—and certainly house-cleaning will never be the same. As a couple, she and Christian Bale perfectly illustrate the concept “can’t live with him/her, can’t live without him/her.
“American Hustle” has a few surprising cameos, but they are more than stunt casting. They actually work. There is a very large supporting cast and they all add immensely to the film.
The late 70s and early 80s produced some of the most hideous fashion and hair-do’s in our nation’s history and “American Hustle” captures them all to perfection. Even the electric rollers that Amy Adams wears are spot on.
This is a complicated movie, but Russell does a fantastic job in guiding the ship. The mark of a good film is when you want to learn more about the topic. It’s not often that an historical film piques your curiosity for more while being plain fun on every level. “American Hustle” is such a film.