American Hustle is almost as unbelievable as the Abscam story it’s about.
Here’s David O. Russell, a director on a hot streak, assembling a cast made up of not only some of the greatest working actors, but actors he has directed to Oscar nominations (and two wins!) in his last two features. American Hustle reunites Russell with The Fighter stars Christian Bale and Amy Adams and Silver Lining Playbook‘s Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and, in an uncredited but pivotal surprise role, Robert De Niro. Add to this: Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., a score by Danny Elfman, and hair, costumes and a soundtrack that are so 70s they’ll make you think a perm is a good idea, and you’ve just scratched the surface of American Hustle.
There’s also the slick editing, tight script and sharp dialogue. But all that would be for naught if there wasn’t a great story to tell, and American Hustle doesn’t disappoint in that – or any – department.
American Hustle tells a fictionalized version of the Abscam FBI sting operation. In the movie, Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser are two con artists (Bale, Adams) who are forced to work with FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) after he busts them for embezzlement. DiMaso says they won’t have to do any jail time if they help the Bureau bust four other con artists. Rosenfeld and Prosser are cautious, even suspicious, but they ultimately agree. Rosenfeld wants to make sure no harm comes to his wife Rosalyn, an unpredictable firecracker of a woman (the amazing Lawrence – she’s the real deal), and son Danny. Rosenfeld and Prosser tell DiMaso they’ve been successful because they’ve kept their operation small, but DiMaso isn’t hearing any of it. An opportunity comes along to bust some politicians and DiMaso, a hothead who defies the orders of his boss (Louis C.K.), sees it as a chance to make a name for himself. The con will involve an Arab sheikh who’ll feign interest in investing in the reinvention of Atlantic City to a New Jersey mayor (Renner). The plan quickly spirals out of control with Rosenfeld, Prosser and DiMaso realizing, at different times, that they may have bitten off more than they can chew. “People believe what they want to believe.” That’s a line that’s repeated in American Hustle, a movie where so many characters want to believe they have the upper hand in life.
American Hustle is Martin Scorsese-light. Unlike a Scorsese, it’s light on violence, but there are so many elements of the story – con artists, casinos, the mob, corruption, the Rosalyn character – reminded me of Scorsese. There are flashbacks, flash forwards, and even a scene where two characters have a conversation at an open car trunk, the camera looking up at them.
Enough cannot be said about the performances in American Hustle. As Rosenfeld’s wife Rosalyn, Jennifer Lawrence is a scene stealer (the house-cleaning, nail-polish and eavesdropping-on-the-phone scenes are especially great, but Lawrence isn’t kidding around in any of American Hustle); as his associate Sydney, the magnetic Amy Adams has never been better. It is a pity they only share one scene together, but maybe it’s even more special because it only happens once. American Hustle is energetic throughout, but it is frenetic when the actresses are on the screen. Rosalyn drives American Hustle right to the edge of the cliff, which is where she appears to like to live.
American Hustle is a crime drama with some laughs, lots to look at and even more to love.
American Hustle is playing in theatres across Montreal.