By: Greg Maier
With American Hustle, Writer/Director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, 2012) has forged his reputation as one of America’s top filmmakers working today. The ’70s set dramedy features some of the year’s best performances from its all star cast, which is led by the forceful duo of Christian Bale (The Dark Knight Rises, 2012) and Amy Adams (The Master, 2012) who play the brilliant pair of con artists Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser. Rounding out the talented cast are Bradley Cooper and Oscar winners Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro, who all starred in Silver Linings, as well as Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, 2008) and Lewis C.K. (Blue Jasmine, 2013).
The film, as its opening title card comedically suggests, is loosely based on an actual FBI sting operation known as ABSCAM involving political corruption and dealings with the mob in order to secure funding to rebuild Atlantic City New Jersey after gambling has recently become legal in the state. We are introduced to Irving and Sydney who run an illegal loan acquisition company promising their clients large loans in exchange for a $5,000 non-refundable fee. When they are caught by the young under cover FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper), they are forced to cooperate in order to save themselves by helping entrap local politicians through under the table bribing. Though Irving and Sydney seem like the perfect pair, Irving is also married to the beautiful and unpredictable Rosalyn (Lawrence) and has adopted her only son which puts complications in all three of their relationships. In order to give her and Irving extra security in case the whole thing goes south, Sydney seduces agent Di Masso who himself is a renegade sort; always disobeying his boss and mentor played by Lewis C.K. Their main target of the sting operation is New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito (Renner) who reluctantly accepts the bribe because he truly feels it is the right thing to do in the best interest of rebuilding the state.
With the somewhat factual story aside, the film is dominated by killer performances from some of hollywoods best actors and it is Bale and Adams’ performances specifically that stand out the most. Christian Bale, with his large belly and incredible comb over, is always hiding behind his tinted glasses and flashy velvet suits as he speaks with a wonderful cleverness and giving the performance of his career which is reminiscent of Marlon Brando (The Godfather, 1972). Amy Adams, who earned an Oscar nomination for last year’s most daring film, The Master, has never been better. She essentially plays two roles, Sydney Prosser, the brilliant con artist and also Lady Edith, the English woman who has all of her sucker clients as well as Agent Di Maso fooled into thinking she is actually from London. These two actors must be a director’s dream because as a viewer you simply can’t take your eyes off of either of them; I can’t imagine they require much direction at all if any.
I hate to rub this film’s belly so much, but there are so many things I loved about the picture that it is so hard to criticize. For starters, the soundtrack, like any David O. Russell film, is phenomenal. Especially a moment that uses the Elton John classic “Goodby Yellow Brick Road” and also a great scene where Jennifer Lawrence dances around her house cleaning while singing “Live and Let Die”. Of course how could you not love the amazing ’70s hairstyles sported by Bale, Cooper and Renner; I will never forget Brad Cooper wearing little pink curlers while he explains to his mother that he is the “quarterback” running the show. Lastly, and you’ll just have to watch the film to understand this, I think I’ll be referring to microwaves as “science ovens” for the rest of my life.
American Hustle is not a perfect film, but it is just about as good as it gets for what it is. I believe the film will be receiving many Oscar nominations come awards season including Best Picture, Director, and all four acting categories; it would be an absolute shame if it didn’t. American Hustle was the second best film I saw in 2013 and to that I say, thank you David O. Russell for knocking it out of the park once again!