Opening with the title card: “Some of this actually happened,” it’s clear from the start that David O. Russel’s latest film, American Hustle, is taking it’s story in stride, and has raucous fun in doing so.
Loosely following the FBI sting operation ABSCAM, in which multiple members of congress were captured on video accepting bribe offerings, American Hustle closely follows Irving Rosenfield and Sydney Prosser, played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams, respectively. They’ll go from small time con artists to getting roped in to an FBI sting op led by one Richie DiMaso, played by Bradley Cooper. The story in this film is bitingly hilarious, making 2013 a banner year for great, fun, hysterical dark comedies.
The writing in American Hustle, originally entitled American Bullshit, is anything but bullshit. It’s sharp and funny and carried by excellent performances on the part of its ensemble cast of characters; including Jennifer Lawrence as the devious Rosalyn Rosenfield and Jeremy Renner as the true heart of the film, Mayor Carmine Polito. The film really kicks itself in to a kinetic high-gear when Robert DeNiro makes his appearance in the film as Floridian Casino mobster Victor Tellegio. There’s also a small role on the part of comedian Louis C.K. as Stoddard Thorsen, DiMaso’s superior at the FBI. C.K. is hilarious, as per usual, and his interactions with Cooper on screen led to some of my favorite moments in the film.
But the chemistry in this film isn’t limited to Cooper and C.K., though. Everyone in the cast works so well on-screen together, specifically Bale and Adams. They carry this film through some of it’s slower segments, but they really do shine together in these roles, due to some excellent direction on the part of director David O. Russel. I’m quite excited to see what else can come out of Adams as an actress and while Bale is always excellent in every role he portrays, he delivered some pretty heavy emotional beats in this one. More specifically in a segment between him and Renner’s Polito, it really is quite stirring.
The films message, too, can be taken to heart. Mayor Polito isn’t a bad guy at all. The decisions he makes can be seem as despicable to some, but he without question does it for the betterment of his community. He’s the pure center of these characters, and doesn’t sink to the variable lows that those in the law do, as evidenced by Cooper’s portrayal of DiMaso. Near the end of the film, it’s clear DiMaso’s lust for power and glory has consumed him, and he’s willing to leave a path of destruction in his wake. Luckily, he gets what’s coming to him in an underhanded, surprise con; delivered by the initial pair: Rosenfield and Prosser. It was a pleasant surprise to see this unfold on screen, and equally hilarious. I do need to make mention of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Rosenfield’s wife, Rosalyn. Whenever she’s not lighting the house on fire or at odds with a science oven; she’s just pure, manipulative evil and is one of the more sinister parts of the film, rising in the later half as a villain of sorts.
American Hustle supports itself on a message that it may sometimes get a bit too preachy with: the American Dream and doing absolutely everything you need to do to get there. Tired of yourself? Reinvent yourself. Whatever it takes, and each of these characters are out to pursue their own motivations, which leads to some great conflicts and moments on-screen. There are moments where the frantic fun slows down, but it almost immediately picks back up again. While “some of this actually happened,” near all of this is sharp, clever and fun.