For this 70’s tale of con men (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) in over their heads writer/director David O. Russell reunites with Silver Linings Playbook stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Part character study, part insane and over-the-top adventure, American Hustle offers audiences one of the year’s best films.
After a brief introduction to Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and his mistress and co-conspirator Sydney (Adams), the pair are busted by up-and-coming FBI hot-head Richie DiMaso (Cooper) who decides to use the pair to pull in even bigger fish. Regardless of danger or consequences, and against the orders of his boss (Louis C.K.), DiMaso pushes Irving and Sydney into going after both the mob and local politicians, beginning with Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) who is interested in rebuilding Atlantic City.
What Russell does offer is a complicated job, and incredibly dangerous proposition, for the two feuding lovers which isn’t made any easier by Irving’s friendship to Carmine, Sydney coming on to DiMaso, or Irving’s wife (Lawrence) beginning to date a member of the mafia they are going to have to eventually screw-over. The story is loosely based on the FBI ABSCAM operation of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s which lead to several arrests but which also caused the Federal agency to drastically overhaul its rules for undercover operations. If even a hint of what happens in this movie is true you can definitely see why such steps were needed.
Although Lawrence is getting much praise for her role as the bubble head of a wife who understands more than she lets on, I was far more impressed with Adams grabbing a far sexier role than we’ve grown used to seeing her in. Both together and apart, Sydney and Irving have to balance a number of possible outcomes, emotions, and betrayals that work because nothing about their situation is assured other than the fact that they are both surely fucked.
Bale is terrific and helped by the inspired choice of Irving’s ridiculously intricate comb-over, heart problems, and relatively small-time dreams, which continually force others to mistakenly underestimate what the man is actually capable of. His scenes with Lawrence and Adams, who he feels are both slipping away, show us hidden facets to the character while suggesting there’s more than anyone sees slowly bubbling under the surface.
In smaller roles Renner, Cooper, and Louis C.K. help round out the film. Renner is amusing in the role of the good-natured patsy who honestly just wants to help (even if it means getting his hands a little dirty). And Cooper is very much back in the same kind of out-of-control role that earned him Oscar and Golden Globe nomination for Silver Linings Playbook last year. But as understated as any member of the cast, Louis C.K. steals nearly every scene in which he appears as the only character pausing to consider the implications of what his uncontrollable agent is proposing.
Through the lies, manipulation, cons, deceit, broken promises, and 70’s setting, what Russeell’s movie really comes down to is a rather simple story about a man trapped between two relationships and two lives all of which begin to crash down on his head at the same time. High on character and humor, American Hustle is a smartly-delivered comedic character study that’s less caper and con film than you’d expect but it delivers in several other ways.