The federal ABSCAM sting operation took place in the late 1970s, wherein political figures and mobsters were linked to bribery and corruption. To capture this story and all the key players (very loosely, I might add), director David O. Russell re-teams with the stars from his previous hits, Amy Adams and Christian Bale from “The Fighter” and Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper from “Silver Linings Playbook” (with a small role from Robert DeNiro as well, since why not? He’s in virtually every other movie this year). Amazingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, given all the talent, he churns out another excellent movie that even surpasses his last two efforts. No small feat.
The story follows a con man named Irving Rosenfeld (played by the always memorable Christian Bale), who finds love and a lucrative partnership with the beautiful and chameleon-like Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). Together they con many desperate souls out of their money, achieving so much success they attract attention from the feds, namely the passionate and unstable Richard DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). His big idea is to forcefully recruit them into his scheme to bring down corrupt politicians who are actually trying to revive Atlantic City.
This is an ensemble movie, fully reliant on the skill and presence of its actors, and thankfully, that’s one department in which “American Hustle” shines. The entire main cast is excellent, starting with Christian Bale. As always, he loses himself in his character, taking on both the weight and lack of reasonable hair. He vanishes into his mannerisms and personality, making the character of Irving come to life beyond mere appearances. He commands the screen, and even with the rest of the cast and their character performances, it’s impossible to lose sight of him.
Amy Adams, the perfect addition to any cast, it seems, gives another powerful performance, hers much more subtle and nuanced in terms of complexity. Her character is one who disappears into a character of her own, making her true self almost impossible to know apart from the con. Opposite of this is Rosalyn, Irving’s wife as played by Jennifer Lawrence. In terms of screen time, hers is the smallest role, but it’s also the biggest and loudest. She plays the part and it’s a lot of fun to watch her contrast against the rest of the cast. Bradley Cooper, in the role of the “good guy” is also quite memorable, especially since his violent mood swings and instability make him seem antagonistic and even threatening.
What’s especially noticeable about the movie, apart from the acting, is the look and more importantly, the style. David O. Russell seems to be infatuated with the period and world of the 1970s, from everything to the dance clubs, the crazy hairstyles, the colorful fashions, and especially the music. Everything is shot with a spinning and moving camera, often employing slow motion for emphasis. It’s eye catching and the awe of the setting is contagious. It’s incredibly glamorous, even when it’s depicting a dangerous or sleazy side of the city, and it’s an unapologetically romantic depiction of the period. Needless to say, it looks great.
The look plays a very important part for the pacing as well, for the movie is more than a bit convoluted with all the romantic subplots, the ever changing scope and scale of the scam, and the layers of backstabbing and twists that go on throughout. Even reflecting on it now, I couldn’t say for sure all that happened during this movie or if I was always able to follow it. It’s not too difficult to become lost, but it never seems important, and every now and then a character’s narration will chime in to move things right along. This actually works to its advantage, for the plot isn’t nearly as important as the “feel”, for lack of a better term.
Carried by it’s performances and visual flair, “American Hustle” has a constant and perfectly paced flow, keeping things always interesting, visually engaging, and making it a thrill to watch the characters clash and work their way through the story. It’s messy and glamorous, thought provoking and even head scratching, but your eyes remain transfixed on the screen.