Over the past decade, 2013 stands out as one of the best years for movies. Just when I think I have seen the Oscar front-runner, another film is released that changes the race. Enter American Hustle. Written and directed by David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), American Hustle is everything an award-winning movie should be. It has a fascinating storyline, an incredibly talented director, the best acting ensemble of the year, wonderfully over-the-top (yet authentic) costumes and set design that make you feel as though you are living in the 70s… hell, it even has awesome music! When it comes to movies, it doesn’t get much better than this.
American Hustle is a fun, exciting crime drama loosely based on the FBI’s Abscam operation, which took place from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his girlfriend Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are con artists, who specialize in art forgeries and investment scams. As it turns out, Irving is also scamming his wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), leaving her at home with his stepson while he rips-off desperate customers and beds Sydney.
When the FBI catches Irving and Sydney in a con-gone-wrong, the couple is forced to make a deal in order to escape a lengthy prison sentence. This deal involves using their expertise to plan sting operations, which will ideally bust corrupt politicians; of particular importance is Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), the mayor of Atlantic City, New Jersey, who is trying to raise funds to rebuild his city. Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), is the FBI agent in charge of the operation. Richie is the type of guy that wants to make a name for himself at the Bureau, and he feels the potential high-profile arrests generated from the Abscam mission will get him to the top. The question is, will DiMaso be able to keep a handle on the operation or will Irving and Sydney’s cunning nature get the best of him?
Donnie Brasco this movie is not. American Hustle never pretends to be a completely accurate representation of the Abscam story; a disclaimer at the beginning of the film playfully states, “some of this actually happened.” This tongue-in-cheek humor, along with the fact it never takes itself too seriously, is one of my favorite aspects of the movie. In fact, I don’t know of many actors (or filmmakers) that are ballsy enough to embrace the era the way Russell and his all-star cast did. From the (at times) barely-there costumes, to Bradley Cooper’s curls and Christian Bale’s comb-over, it was easy to get lost in the film’s aesthetic.
Avengers Actors assemble! Of course the storyline of American Hustle is great, but where the film really succeeds is in the acting. It’s amazing that David O. Russell was able to bring together four of the best actors working today to star in this movie. I guess I shouldn’t be too shocked, though, as each actor received an Oscar nomination for roles in previous David O. Russell films. Unsurprisingly, the actors’ spectacular performances are what really take American Hustle to the next level. If it were up to me, Adams, Bale, Cooper and Lawrence would get an Oscar nomination for their incredible work.
Amy Adams is the star of American Hustle, trading her good girl image for one of a feisty con-woman. Besides Jennifer Lawrence, Adams is the standout of the film. What really excites me the most about Adams is finding nuances in her different performances from movie to movie. For example, in this film her character is supposed to have a fake British accent, which isn’t the best, and purposely goes in and out for the entire movie; I loved that she chose to let the audience in on this little part of the con. I kept wondering whether Richie or any of the other characters would hear the falseness in her accent. Adams’ sexy confidence and ability to own the bad girl role adds another feature to her already stellar resume.
Christian Bale, always the chameleon, gained over forty pounds for his role in this movie. Somewhat resembling Les Grossman (Tom Cruise’s character in Tropic Thunder), Bale once again proves that Hollywood should never try to typecast him; he will always break the mold. While I thought his performance in this year’s Out of the Furnace was his best in years, he quickly one-upped himself in American Hustle. It’s hard to give such a gross con-artist redeeming qualities, but Bale continuously shows his character has a heart of gold; not to mention I shockingly started to see what the female characters found sexy about him. By the end of the film, it’s amazing how much you sympathize with and even like his character.
Last year’s sexiest man alive, Bradley Cooper, doesn’t look so sexy in this film. With his super curly hair and gold chain necklaces, Cooper is almost unrecognizable as the neurotic FBI agent Richie, save his piercing blue eyes. Cooper has the ability to bring a boyish innocence to the role, which allows the audience to see why it’s so easy for the con artists to gain his trust. Like in Silver Linings Playbook, Cooper is at his best, and most hilarious, when he is playing the straight man. His performance in American Hustle will continue to reinforce his rising reputation as an incredibly talented actor.
Last but never least, Jennifer Lawrence hits it out of the ballpark. Although her role isn’t as big as I had hoped (there can never be enough J-Law), she makes the most out of her time onscreen and not only steals every scene she is in, she steals the movie as well. Her character, Rosalyn, is a woman you should expect to see on Real Housewives Long Island. With a nasally accent and a distrust of microwaves, Rosalyn is the true “character” in this story. How Lawrence goes from Tiffany to Katniss to Rosalyn is beyond me. Don’t be surprised when Oscar nominations come around and we see her name on the ballot yet again. It seems David O. Russell and Lawrence are a force to be reckoned with.
I dare you to go into American Hustle and not have a great time at the movies. Between the costumes, amazing performances, throwback music surprises (especially Jennifer Lawrence dancing to “Live And Let Die” and a hilarious nod to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”), and entertaining plot, this film has everything, except maybe an Oscar. Bring it on, Academy!
My Review: A