PHOTO BY ATLAS ENTERTAINMENT
Where is it playing?: Stadium 10
What's it rated?: R
What's it worth?: $9.00
David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter, I Heart Huckabees) co-wrote and directed this ‘70s crime drama about con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his sexy partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams)—the latter posing as British royalty—as they become ensnared by risk-taking FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who coerces them into working with powerful, dangerous mobsters. Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, and Louis C.K. also star (138 min.).
Never before have I seen so much chest hair, so many medallions, and such abundant sideboob. American Hustle practically oozes hairspray. As for the actors, director David O. Russell has always cast his favorites, so it’s no surprise to see Russell veterans Lawrence, Cooper, Bale, Adams, and De Niro show up. There are no poor performances in this film; the actors just strike different chords in the key of excellent. Jennifer Lawrence (as Irving’s volatile, manipulative wife) and Bradley Cooper (as a perm-fro-rocking, unhinged FBI agent) make a deliriously hilarious pair. Adams and Bale, while still funny in their own right, also convey a great deal of sadness and emotional depth as the central pair of chameleon con artists. I’d be remiss to leave out the fantastic supporting turns from Louis C.K. (Cooper’s flummoxed, indignant FBI boss), Robert De Niro (a quietly menacing mobster), and Jeremy Renner (a politician with hair as big as his heart). This film moves, emotes, and throbs with a deeply frenetic energy—a la Goodfellas—that is almost too entertaining.
One of the pervading themes of American Hustle is that people believe what they want to believe. For con artists like Sydney and Irving, whose partnership is romantic as well, this notion is used to not only to rationalize their actions—making their victims somehow complicit in their own deception and ruin—it’s also used to inspire bigger and badder hustles. Syndey and Irving repeat this phrase as if it were a mantra. As the film progresses, it also begins to feel like a threat, a suggestion that the other person is deluded.
Irving makes his money “consulting” with desperate people who can’t get loans, taking a nonrefundable $5,000 for a loan that never materializes. Once undercover FBI agent Richie (Cooper) discovers the scheme, he pushes the couple to even greater deceptions in an effort to entrap Camden Mayor Carmine Polito (Renner). The heart of the story is a fictionalized version of the “Abscam” FBI corruption sting of the late ’70s and early ’80s.
I rushed home to learn more about “Abscam” right after the movie ended. Amazingly, the film is fairly true to real life. There was actually an FBI agent-cum-fake-sheik and the operation did indeed bust a U.S. senator, six U.S. representatives, and a handful of other politicians on corruption and bribery charges. Since a few details were still changed in the film, Russell chooses to open with a playful line of text that reads, “Some of this actually happened.” Abscam sounds like fairly serious material when I spell it out like that, so it’s important to note that this film is, first and foremost, riotously funny. The script by Russell and Eric Warren Singer is bursting with one-liners and ridiculous situational comedy, and the film even mines humor out of fish tanks, landline telephones, ice fishing, and those newfangled “science ovens.” Everyone on the screen seems to be having an insane amount of fun, and that enthusiasm is downright infectious. The only items that keep the film from a perfect score, in my book, are an unnecessary amount of expository narration and a slight over-reliance on non-diegetic music to sell some scenes. Please don’t dwell on my nitpicks, though. This film promises to be an Oscar heavyweight, and demands to be seen as soon as possible (138 min.).
—Anna Weltner, arts editor and Rhys Heyden, staff writer