David O. Russell is on fire. Following his 2010 Oscar-winning film “The Fighter” and 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook”, he reunites Christian Bale and Amy Adams (“The Fighter”) with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”) to make another Oscar hopeful. The film is loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal of the late 1970’s and features not only great performances but an appropriately nostalgic soundtrack that come together to make a funny, dramatic, albeit somewhat convoluted film.
I won’t do your dirty work no more
In 1978, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his lover Sidney Prosser (Amy Adams) are coerced into working for FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) in order to bring down four other con-men like themselves, the completion of which would vindicate them of their crimes. DiMaso plans to entrap prominent politicians – one being Mayor of Camden, New Jersey Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) – to accept bribes in hopes of being promoted. The relationship between the three is tense at all times. Sidney is angry at Irving for not leaving the country when they had a chance and seduces Richie to spite Irving. Rosenfeld refuses to leave because his ditzy and unpredictable wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) will divorce him and take his adopted son Danny away from him.
The plot is much more intricate than that, which is one of the film’s few shortcomings. The film clocks in at 138 minutes and the audience must pay close attention to every minute to understand what’s going on. Since the film is a fictionalized account of the ABSCAM scandal, there is more emphasis on the quirky characters and their relationships than there is on the complex plot. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just something to keep in mind when watching the film.
Hustle and Bustle
Russell has come a long way since his 1994 breakout indie hit “Spanking the Monkey”. “American Hustle” is indisputably a Hollywood film. It has every burgeoning A-list actor that anyone cares about. Fortunately, this film shows why the public cares about them: they’re great actors with great chemistry with each other and the director. Bale puts on another masterful performance playing Rosenfeld, a Bronx-raised Jewish con-man with an unsightly gut and an elaborate comb-over. Cooper too has come a long way since 2009’s “The Hangover”. He’s not some pretty boy trying to be an action star, he’s got acting chops who holds his own against Bale. They play off each other with ease, evident from the first scene.
The women are just as powerful. Some might remember Amy Adams as Leonardo DiCaprio’s shy and childish love interest in 2002’s “Catch Me If You Can”. She’s nothing like that in this movie. I wouldn’t say her performance is Oscar-worthy but she’s certainly convincing as a stripper-turned-con-woman who is just as conniving and deceitful as Rosenfeld. Jennifer Lawrence’s Rosalind displays destructive behaviour and an ego as big as her mouth, which makes for a decidedly comedic performance. She laughs, she cries, she even kisses Adams in the only scene they share together. As the two women vying for Irving’s love and affection, Rosalyn and Sidney are two sides of the same coin and they don’t even know it.
“You’re freaking me out right now”
Russell’s commitment to the 1970’s is exceptional. Cooper’s faux curly hair and his affinity for his own chest hair, Adams’ deep V-neck outfits, the tacky furniture, and the exemplary music choices (courtesy of one Danny Elfman) makes the movie seem straight out of 1978. When I say it’s a Hollywood film, part of that connotation is trying to appeal to all demographics in hopes of profits. The film succeeds in doing just that. An endearing homage to all things 1970s that older audiences will enjoy with actors that younger audiences will recognize, topped off with humour that everyone will find funny. And to make things even better, Robert De Niro makes a brief appearance (who was also in “Silver Linings Playbook”).
Russell knows how to make a good movie. He’s even better at fostering advantageous relationships with his cast members, which makes “American Hustle” all the better. Yes, the plot can be confusing and some might complain about its length, but it’s worth it. You can even pick up on things you missed the first time around. The film has great acting, direction, comedy, drama, and music. You don’t want to miss this.