American Hustle is David O. Russell’s successor to the excellent Silver Linings Playbook, bringing together the stars of that film and the stars of his equally excellent effort, The Fighter. It is as a result of having such a talented cast at his disposal, that O. Russell manages to make a needlessly complicated narrative an entertaining piece of cinema in the vein of masterpieces such as Goodfellas and Boogie Nights.
The film is very loosely based on a real FBI scam conducted in the late 1970’s and stresses this right at the start in order to help you suspend your disbelief throughout this crazy thrill ride. We’re introduced to a pair of con artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) who are ultimately coerced by an eager FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) into using their particular skill sets to entrap corrupt politicians in order to secure their freedom. However, as the scam develops and the mob gets involved, it soon becomes clear that Christian Bale’s loose cannon of a wife (Jennifer Lawrence) may be the one to ruin the whole operation for everybody involved.
American Hustle’s main quality does not derive from its plot but from its hugely flawed characters, who have been expertly brought to life. Christian Bale looks almost unrecognisable as the out of shape conman Irving Rosenfeld. He is highly believable as a man who has been forced by his lack of options to operate on the wrong side of the law in order to survive. Amy Adams gives arguably the best performance of her career as con artist Sydney Prosser, who like Irving is doing her best with her limited options and envisions a better life for herself. The electric chemistry between these two characters is upset by Bradley Cooper’s FBI agent Richie DiMaso, creating an interesting love triangle. Completing this outstanding core cast are Jennifer Lawrence who once again proves her excellence as Irving’s mad manipulative wife Rosalyn and Jeremy Renner, whose portrayal of well-intentioned corrupt mayor Carmine Polito is brilliant.
The main theme that unites all of these characters is their pursuit of the American dream. Whether it’s Irving and Sydney’s dream of simply a better life or Richie’s dream of making a name for himself and landing a gorgeous woman or Carmine’s dream of building something bigger, everyone is doing everything within their power to achieve their dreams. The film not only provides a commentary on how the ideology of the American dream had such a profound effect upon 1970’s American society, but also on how all of life is essentially a con. American Hustle suggests that people are constantly conning one another to get what they want and are even conning themselves just to get through life. This makes the con artists who are usually vilified in other films more grey and human, as they’re portrayed as a more extreme reflection of society.
The period detail in American Hustle is very high quality and matches the benchmark for period detail set by US drama series Mad Men. All of the costumes and aesthetic details contribute to creating such a rich world and well and truly immersing the audience in the story. Authentic music from the 1970’s is scattered throughout the film with famous songs such as Delilah and the Bond theme song Live and Let Die making an appearance. Music is such a key part of American Hustle and there are many serendipitous moments when the perfect song is used to convey the mood and tone of a scene.
However, there are a few faults that prevent American Hustle from being a truly amazing film. Despite only having a runtime of just over two hours, the narrative isn’t meaty enough to warrant this amount of time and the film begins to feel drawn out towards the end. This feeling predominantly stems from the fact that a number of scenes are too wordy and could’ve done with some editing. Furthermore, in order to understand all of the intricacies of a simple enough plot, you’ll need to pay very close attention as the plot isn’t explained as well as it could be.
Ultimately, American Hustle is a very funny and entertaining crime film with many talented performers performing at the top of their game. Whilst you can’t help but feel slightly conned by the fact that a film with so much talent that promised to be a masterpiece falls short of this feat, you should still see this excellent film that looks set to win many awards.
American Hustle (2014), directed by David O.Russell, is released in UK cinemas by Entertainment Film Distributors, Certificate 15.