When the lives of a conman, despondent femme fatale, FBI agent, and the Mayor of New Jersey all intertwine in 1978, the results are a whirlwind of hilarious hijinks revolving around the question of who’s scamming who. Director and co-writer David O. Russell patiently peels back the layers on the confounding story revolving around a Bronx scam artist, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale). After Irving makes the acquaintance of Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), an empty woman searching for love, and introduces her to a life luxury and passion, the two become involved in Irving’s business scam.
Sydney takes on a new name and dons a British accent, proving to Irving she’s more a con artist than he is, and the two strike it big by promising desperate people with no other resources large sums of loans for a simple fee of five grand. The scam is that their clients pay, but never receive the promised cash. However, their business quickly catches the eye of Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), a power-thirsty FBI agent looking to make a name for himself by bringing down top politicians. The three reluctantly partner together, all with different agendas and secrets being held from one another, unfolding an amusing story complete with badass costume design and one of the greatest soundtracks featured in a film.
Ahh, the good old days when a leisure suit and a bump of cocaine solved all your problems.
American Hustle excels all around as a film. Even when its robust story gets so complex it can hardly contain itself, it still manages to simmer long enough to come full circle by the end. American Hustle exhibits a multitude of strengths throughout, namely its exuberant script that follows a group of desolate empty-hearted people searching to fill the void in their lives by deceiving others long enough that they end up ultimately deceiving themselves. Russell and fellow writer Eric Singer follow the journeys of a group of characters in the midst of personal triumph and failure. Their struggles provide us with enough insight that it becomes hard to truly dislike or judge any particular person.
One can’t help but empathize with the struggles of such broken people, even when Irving’s estranged wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) becomes so irritating that you just want to punch her square in the mouth in an attempt to shut her up for a few seconds and hopefully knock some rational thinking into her miserable self-centered brain. In lieu of this, it’s still hard to genuinely hate Rosalyn because we understand her all too well. The script reveals why she’s an empty shell of a women and how that makes her manipulate those around her to stay with her so she doesn’t feel empty anymore. Her immaturity and thirst for attention is showcased throughout, like when she purposefully puts a plate of food in the “science oven” after specifically being told not to. The resulting fire is her fuel to explain that had she not done it, her family wouldn’t be aware of the true dangers of the machine that cooks all the nutrients out of their food. She’d know, too, because she read it in a magazine.
Cancer over convenience, you choose.
Russell takes great care in detailing nuances in hand gestures and placements from his characters. The great pains used to delicately move the camera through space and its ways of capturing images along with the use of tight close-ups and tracking shots creates intimate and tension-filled moments. With noticeably pertinent edits from trio Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, and Crispin Struthers, American Hustle is as engrossing as it is ridiculous.
Performances across the board are phenomenal thanks to the commitment of each actor and the core of American Hustle’s script. Bale is known for his adamant devotion to his roles by transforming his body and looks to fit the part. That same dedication is everpresent in American Hustle. In the film’s opening shot, we see that Bale isn’t wearing a fat suit to portray the pot-bellied, balding Irving. Bale packed on an extra 43 pounds to have an authentic swelled stomach, puffy face, and swollen sausage-like fingers that makes his immersion into Irving perfect. Bradly Cooper is hysterically dickish as the wildcard, coke-snorting Richie. Despite his asshole tendencies, I couldn’t help but feel pity when his character has a moment at rock bottom.
He may seem light and welcoming, but for God’s sake don’t walk on set during his scene!
Both Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams hold their own in the male dominated cast, with Lawrence continually proving her skill and depth as an actress through Rosalyn, a crazed big-mouth incapable of being handled or reasoned with. Adams at first is a bit unconvincing as the sexy, bra-less Sydney, but as the story continues she shines brighter than anyone in the film when her character’s true self, sans makeup and accent, is revealed.
After being beyond disappointed the same day with The Coen Brother’s Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle lifted my spirits by being an unexpectedly intriguing tale. It reminded me of Howard Hawk’s brilliant 1946 classic, The Big Sleep, a complicated, convoluted story that is brought together by strong performances, magnetic chemistry and enticing humor. American Hustle boasts all of these strengths and then some, keeping me engaged and desperate to see the ending results.
While funny, there’s still a biting melodramatic sadness throughout the film. It’s ultimately a character study that reveals where the American psyche was in the late 1970s. A moment in time when the American people faced the resignation of Nixon after Watergate, the end of the Vietnam War, inflation, and high crime, leaving the country slightly lost and mostly bitter, a viewpoint that still resonates with cultural relevance today. The characters in American Hustle instead opt to heal their emptiness themselves by any means necessary. Their struggle to fill that void and find happiness is ultimately the crowing aspect of American Hustle.
Take a Drink: every time Rosalyn starts a fire or gets into an accident.
Take a Drink: every time Irving has to take his heart pills.
Take a Drink: every time Irving’s hair becomes the topic of scene
Take a Drink: every time Richie loses his shit
Take a Drink: every time someone is conned
Do a Shot: every time a song choice reminds you how amazing Danny Elfman is at his job.