What strikes you immediately about “American Hustle” is the hair. Hair and Amy Adams’ cleavage (there’s none of the former on the latter, though). The hair, make-up and wardrobe is so transformative and attention-grabbing that it briefly threatens to overshadow everything else going on in the film. And that would be a real shame because Director and Co-writer David O Russell has cooked up a rich, complex tale of cons and counter-cons, ambition and manipulation. It’s also wickedly funny.
Loosely based on the very real FBI ‘ABSCAM’ operation from the late 1970’s (The film itself settles for the tongue-in-cheek caption: ‘Some of this actually happened’), the film makes no serious attempt to document the real events, preferring instead to use reality as a backdrop to tell a story in which real life figures are amalgamated and caricatured.
The story focusses initially on two con artists: Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who run a small time loan scam but when they are caught by recklessly ambitious FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), they are drawn into an escalating sting operation which threatens to go bad on all of them, especially once Rosenfeld’s wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) gets involved.
The lead cast are superb, especially Amy Adams who gives a performance of real complexity and subtlety, ensuring you can never be sure where her real allegiances lie as she flits between Rosenfeld and DiMaso. Jeremy Renner gives Mayor Carmine Polito a genuine core of decency amidst the wheeling, dealing and corruption while Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are great in their flawed, contradictory and hubristic roles. Only Christian Bale comes close to letting the side down. His performance is still very good but his preference for adlibbing his scenes over multiple takes often shows and there are points where it’s very apparent he is ‘ACTING’. At least nobody got in his sightlines this time.
The overall result is a brash, glossy and sleazily fun crime caper with a healthy dose of black comedy, a fantastic recreation of the 1970’s cinematic aesthetic and some standout performances. Highly recommended, grown up cinema.