The last three awards seasons have resonated with one name: David O’Russell. His last two films, “The Fighter” and “Silver Lining Playbook” have earned his Best Director nods at the Oscars, with each being nominated for numerous acting awards and one taking home Best Picture. The director is back in awards contention this year with “American Hustle” a semi-based on a true story film about the 1970s ABSCAM operations.
Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is a con artist and owner of a local dry cleaner chain, who bonds with Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) over their mutual love for music at a party. They go into business together, as faux loan sharks and art dealers, and are finally caught when FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) draws them into an investigation that gets bigger by the day, eventually targeting corrupt politicians. They draw in Carmine Polito(Jeremy Renner) who is looking to rebuild Atlantic City, by baiting him with a rich investor, a wealthy sheik. They use this front to draw in more targets, including a major mob boss (Robert de Niro) and members of Congress. The threat to the whole operation is Roselyn Rosenfeld(Jennifer Lawrence), Irving’s unpredictable wife.
From the opening line “Some of this actually happened,” we know this dark comedy may not go as expected. Being set in the 70s, the styles are outrageous and indicative of the characters. Bale has a comb-over-toupee combination, signifying his con of himself as well as the outside world. He tries to keep control of the situation, his two women, and the swiftly derailing investigation, and Bale plays the increasingly conflicted Irving superbly.
Cooper labors over his perm, in one scene roaming his apartment with a head full of curlers. His character is one that is not quite ready for the field, and, desperate to prove himself, pushes his limits too far, too fast. DiMaso works the case with an almost childlike intensity. He’s petulant and willing to go in head first without thinking it through, which makes his character the weak link in the operation, and the film, which is otherwise full of strong and cunning characters.
The star of the show is Jennifer Lawrence. Whether nagging Irving about his exploits or flirting with mob members at a tense meeting, Lawrence’s dynamic performance fills the screen each and every time she’s on it.
O’Russell plays fast and loose, trying to instill a hectic energy into the film. The nature of it is simple and fluid as it progresses, with the sheer preposterous nature of the scam being too outlandish to not be true. The characters play their parts, but overall, with the exception of Lawrence, who continues to show her range, I left not feeling the hype, but with an impression of a good effort nonetheless.
“American Hustle” is a good film, but it may just not be a great film. Some acclaim may be deserved, or it may just be because these names are familiar and dependable. It tells the story, but it doesn’t draw you into it, like last year’s “Argo,” which had me gripping my seat in anticipation.
“American Hustle” lands in the B-range for me. The efforts of the cast kept the film afloat, a few laughs derived from the nature of the story, and a Hollywood happy ending for the seedy underbelly of New York crime make it a worthy watch, but not one that left me waiting with baited breath for the next scene.
This film is rated R for language, some violence and sexual content.