There have been many great con artist themed movies over the years—“The Grifters” (1990), “The Hustler” (1961), “Confidence” (2003), to name just a few. But the vibrant new David O. Russel directed film “American Hustle” just might be the best of them all. It is that good.
“American Hustle” stars the electrifying Amy Adams and the superb-as-always Christian Bale as a couple of gifted con artists who fall prey to an eccentric and ambitious FBI agent (played with hilarious, over-the-top-intensity by Bradley Cooper) and are forced to participate in an ill-conceived sting operation that goes wildly off the tracks.
“American Hustle” is set in the late 1970s New York City. Russel and his talented crew take full advantage—especially the production designer and music supervisor. There is a wonderful, disco-era high energy charge to this movie. If “The Wolf of Wall Street” is “Goodfellas” with stockbrokers then “American Hustle” is “Boogie Nights” with grifters—complete with beautifully staged steadicam shots and gorgeously composed push-ins on the photogenic actors and their spot-on wardrobe, accessories, and other 1978 era pop culture anchors.
The screenplay written by Eric Warren Singer and Russell—kinda, sorta based on actual people and real stuff that happened—is a masterwork of intricate plotting and complex characterizations brought to life with entertaining realism by an engaging cast who take their roles and run with them. There has been much hype, and deservedly so, about the work of Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn—the kooky, crazy wife of Christian Bale’s character Irving Rosenfeld. Her supporting role, as well as the work of Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Remmer, are Oscar worthy.
But make no mistake, this movie belongs to the two leads, Christian Bale and Amy Adams. The Oscar competition for Best Actor will be fierce this year, but Bale is as deserving as anyone. Amy Adams flat out gives the best performance of the year by an actress—easily the best.
Bale’s Irving Rosenfeld is a complicated and charismatic character who we root for because we sense that beneath all the swindling and gamesmanship, there is a truth and a sweetness to him. Bale has a long, storied history of inhabiting his roles with a beyond method-like transformational approach. It seems Amy Adams may have absorbed some of the actor’s process because she is flat out fantastic. Her Sydney Prosser/ Lady Edith Greensly is captivating, dark, mysterious, conflicted, and bursting with sexuality. Like Bale’s Rosenfeld, there are many layers, but beneath it all we can sense there is vulnerability, truth and goodness.
There is this wonderful, romantic scene early in the movie showing how Sydney and Irving meet over a mutual love of Duke Ellington. The chemistry between Bale and Adams is off the charts and it is a scene that shows the true core of this story. Beneath all the con games, elaborate scheming, and outrageous humor—“American Hustle” is a love story. It is the best film of the year.