American Hustle, writer and director David O. Russell's latest feature film, tells the story of five people doing everything they can to get ahead during a time when being on top was more important than doing the right thing. This flashy period piece stars Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner.
The year is 1978 and small time con artist Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) has just met the beautiful and seductive Sydney Prosser (Adams) who he immediately falls in love with and eventually uses her unique talents to take his con game to new heights. The couple seemingly have the world in the palm of their hands until FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) manages to upend their life of crime by busting them in a con and turning them into allies that will lead him to bigger targets and the type of thrill seeking lifestyle he has been looking for.
As one bust leads to the next, the stakes get higher and the danger gets more and more real and especially when DiMaso begins targeting high level politicians and mob bosses. This is where Irving begins to have his doubts about the whole operation and begins taking matters into his own hands to not only protect himself and Sydney from DiMaso's wild stunts, but also his wife Rosalyn (Lawrence) and his adopted son Danny. From his experience as a con man, Irving knows there is only one way to survive in a game this big and that is to play everyone against each other and to always be the smartest person in the room.
After the success of last year's Silver Linings Playbook, which also featured both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, I was very much looking forward to seeing what Mr. Russell was next going to pull out of his directing bag of tricks. I must say, American Hustle is much more than an adequate follow up to one of my favorite films of 2012 and I would say it also surpasses it in just about every way possible. Russell is so good at taking a great story and plugging in actors that can really bring his characters to life in wonderfully unexpected ways. Each of the cast members distinguishes themselves so thoroughly that you feel any one of them could carry the picture, but the real magic happens when you realize how perfectly they all fit together in a story compelling enough to match their personalities.
I had honestly grown accustomed to seeing Christian Bale keep himself held in check playing Bruce Wayne in a way that let the villains in his Batman movies become the real shining stars. With that in mind, I was blown away by what a wonderful job he does in molding Irving Rosenfeld into an oddly likable character that you could tell is constantly struggling to maintain a sense of control under extreme circumstances. This is seriously Oscar worthy stuff and should keep him at the top of the pile when it comes to today's roster of leading men and standing right there next to him will be Bradley Cooper as he turns in a performance just as wildly unpredictable as he did in Silver Linings.
Cooper plays DiMaso with such zeal that you can't help but get caught up in how excited he is about everything but you also realize how that same passion may be his inevitable downfall. Russell then does a masterful job of playing these two personalities off of each other for maximum effect. Are these guys going to become the best of friends or are they mortal enemies? From moment to moment you can never really tell as there is just as much of a chance that they are playing the game against each other as they are trying to maintain their tentative partnership. All this good stuff about the guys and I haven't even mentioned Jeremy Renner yet! What I enjoyed most about his performance is how believable he is as Mayor Carmine Polito who is basically an honest man of the people but also may or may not be willing to cut a few corners to get the job done. Some of his best moments are in quiet conversation with Bale as they ironically build a bond of trust based on the code of street ethics they both grew up on.
Now lets talk about the ladies for a moment. If you are not already a fan of both Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence then I have to believe that there is something wrong with you although I imagine your opinion will change after watching them in this movie. Adams has been wildly unpredictable, and successful, as an actress playing a variety of roles from her breakout performance in Disney's Enchanted to her more recent hit The Fighter, which was also directed by Russell, and now she is really given the chance to shine under a much bigger spotlight. Sydney Prosser had to be a very difficult character to play, but Adams makes it look effortless and she also looks pretty amazing in all the glamorous getups the wardrobe department puts her in.
While Adams does bring the heat to the best of her abilities, I felt it was Lawrence who truly owned every single scene she had the opportunity to be in. This young lady should rake in awards for just about everything she does as she is just so talented its almost hard to believe. She plays Rosalyn so deliciously goofy and brilliantly manipulative that you'll find yourself caught under her spell just as easily as the people she affects in the movie. Underneath it all, she has a naturally honest soul that adds such depth to any character she plays, its hard not to buy into her every performance even as she becomes such an iconic figure on her own.
Now that I'm done gushing about all the wonderful acting, I'll get back to going on about what an entertaining story this is as well. Over the entire two hour and eighteen minute run time, you never once feel like things get bogged down or that you might want to take a bathroom break because you're losing interest. Russell keeps you glued to the screen because you don't want to miss a moment of a story that has so many twists and turns you might almost feel dizzy at the end if you weren't so happy about what you just saw.
If American Hustle doesn't walk away with a big pile of trophies this year, then something is truly wrong as this movie has just about everything that people who make those kind of decisions could ever want. What is most impressive is how David O. Russell can blend intensely dramatic moments with a sly sense of humor and then adds a bold visual style that you can't help but be drawn into. When you wrap all that around a quintet of memorable acting performances, you have a film that easily sets itself apart as one of the year's best.