Cast: Christian Bale (Irving Rosenfeld), Amy Adams (Sydney Prosser), Bradley Cooper (Richie DiMaso), Jennifer Lawrence (Rosalyn Rosenfeld), Jeremy Renner (Mayor Carmine Polito)
Writers: Eric Singer, David O. Russell
Director: David O. Russell
After an unoriginal and lackluster first act that relied on plenty of voice-overs in a clear homage to Goodfellas, American Hustle takes off, becoming a truly funny and engaging film loosely based on the famous 1970s Abscam case, a sting operation conducted by the FBI with the help of two expert con artists.
Like in his previous films, David O. Russell seems to have fun with the script, adding a layer of unpredictability and messiness that is amusing to say the least. Instead of feeling disjointed and overelaborate like it has been described by some critics, American Hustle is clever, sassy and provocative, demanding us to empathize with these characters despite their many faults.
Set in the 1970s, the film does a great job to capture the fashion and the excess of the era, with a great soundtrack that includes famous tracks from the likes of Tom Jones, Elton John, Donna Summer and a special homage to Duke Ellington. Of special note are the hairdos, which range from Bradley Cooper’s ridiculous perm to Christian Bale’s incredibly bad comb-over and toupee combo. To disregard these very peculiar directorial choices would be to throw away part of the grand design of American Hustle, which is less about deceit than about perception and how each character wants to be projected onto others. The commonality between them is not a desire to do bad nor a simple case of greed, but to be someone different than who they are. Their motivations may get distorted and influenced by love and notoriety but, in essence, it comes back to a deeply rooted dissatisfaction with themselves and the world around them.
Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld is the closest thing to a lead in American Hustle. His is the most complex and surprising character of the pack. While it may prove useful and possible to frame Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) within a more or less defined set of traits and motivations behind his every move, Irving changes as the film progresses, eventually finding rewards in friendship and love that exceed his lifelong desire to be “someone”.
The two female counterparts are as good if not better. Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser proves to us, and possibly herself, that she can be a sexual magnet, who walks, talks and acts the part, without skipping a beat. Though mostly on the background for most of the film, Jennifer Lawrence justifies the size of her celebrity yet again with a commanding and crazily entertaining performance that takes over the screen with a whole lot of attitude and ridiculousness. It is, by far, David O. Russell’s most playful creation, and the one that infuses life to the script when the film begins to lag.
Though it is far from a perfect creation, American Hustle has many pleasures, none of which are readily apparent. It may be messy and overly long, but it hardly ever ceases to be interesting. One of the best films of 2014.