David O. Russell’s newest film, “American Hustle,” heavily relies on intriguing characters, a great script, a popular, outstanding cast, and smart, witty dialogue to create one heck of a film. With today’s filmmakers continuing to push the limits using special effects and new techniques, and the growing amount of fantasy and sci-fi presentations, it’s nice to find a quality film without noticeable, significant enhancements. “American Hustle” is a clever, chaotic, sexy, and must-see crime drama with one of the better soundtracks I’ve heard in a while.
Based loosely on the FBI Abscam operation that took place in the 1970s and early 1980s involving the investigation of public corruption, “American Hustle” tells the fictional story of a con man, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), and his alluring accomplice, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), forced into a dangerous situation, stuck between the FBI, crooked politicians, and the crime world. When Rosenfeld and Prosser get busted during a con job, an ambitious and aggressive federal agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), puts pressure on them to assist him in going after various corrupt political figures and mob bosses. Knowing how life threatening their position is, Rosenfeld and Prosser attempt to pull off the greatest con of their career. Along for the ride is the Mayor of New Jersey, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), who treads a fine line between corruption and trying to help the city, and Rosenfeld’s bitter, drunken, and care free wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), whose crazy behavior constantly poses a threat to the entire operation. Combined, these characters and the situations they are put in make for an incredibly entertaining and humorous movie.
From the 1970s/80s setting in New Jersey, to the style of hair, clothes, and accessories, to the way we see the police, the corrupt politicians, and the gangsters characterized, this film could have well been filmed and made twenty years ago. But this isn’t the only thing that gives it an old-school vibe. Combined with the appealing throwback soundtrack, the bizarre and amusing people, the sharp and quick-witted dialogue, and the interactions between the characters are what make this feel like a simple and classic, older film that goes back to the basics of capturing unique personalities, putting together a talented cast, and using solid storytelling. The dialogue, conversations and character exchanges create a sort of sarcastic, fast-paced commentary or reaction, similar to Vince Vaughn’s bantering or stammering-type humor, but here, the discussions and quips are much funnier, dirtier, and often times out-right mean or violent. “American Hustle” is basically a series of funny, intense, dramatic, and disorganized situations that is well executed by a first-class cast.
The film uses a variety of unique camera angles, ranging from a close up or zoom in and out of a specific object or body part, to following behind or in front of someone from a certain point of view, to spontaneously changing back and forth from one camera to another during a scene. At times, there is even a flashback or cut scene that interrupts what is going on, emphasizing a point or playing out what is being discussed. There is a high level of drama, raw emotion, and passion present in almost every scene as characters cry, scream, fight, laugh, and act serious. The drama appears to be a bit over-the-top at times, but the boldness of this film to aim for such theatrics and diverse change of feeling is another aspect that makes the film great.
To choose a favorite character or performance is a tall order as the main cast gives terrific and memorable performances, each actor fitting their character very well. Bale, who tries to physically personify his real-life character with his purposeful 50-pound weight gain and ridiculous comb-over, portrays a clever and smooth con man that is a complete mess by his looks and behavior. Adams plays a sexy, bad-mouthed, mysterious con partner, constantly wearing revealing, provocative dresses and changing her identity. Cooper’s character rivals Bale for best male lead, giving the performance of an imaginative, paranoid, and high-tempered FBI agent. Lawrence plays a hot-mouthed, irresponsible, and problematic life-of-the-party. Renner is a well-carried, curious, but somewhat nervous politician, and Louis C.K., Michael Pena, and more fill out the rest of the cast.
Aside from amazing main characters, the film has many twists, surprises, and changes in allegiances that play out over the course of the movie and slowly unfold. As the story involves a series of con jobs, dishonesty, and double crosses, it’s often hard to tell who is telling the truth and who is full of it. Characters are constantly using each other, making up a story, or playing a specific role to get what they want or fulfill a goal.
All of the elements present and mentioned above are what make “American Hustle” a crowd-pleasing film to be seen as soon as possible. This film is now available in theaters.
Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars.
"American Hustle" is rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence. Running time is 2 hours and 18 minutes.
Hayden Pittman is a special contributor to WFAA.com and a freelance film critic and entertainment blogger out of Dallas. More of his content can be found on YouPlusDallas.com and his author archive here. He is a film, TV, and sports enthusiast, and hopes to pursue a future in filmmaking and screenwriting. As an average, passionate film lover who rarely misses a film, his reviews are straightforward and his way with words will let you know in a simple way what he thinks. Don’t like what he has to say? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org.