After bring caught running a scam, con man Irving (Christian Bale) and his partner Sydney (Amy Adams) are forced to work with FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) as he struggles to bring down politicians, and make a name for himself.
Loosely based on a true story, American Hustle is surely the finest con film we have seen in years. The true story is the Abscam operation, in which the FBI used a con artist and a fake sheikh to ensnare public officials, and that is basically what is going on here, albeit with fantastic performances, big hair and a very shouty Bradley Cooper.
Christian Bale leads this merry band of con artists as Irving Rosenfeld. Obsessed with his thinning hair, but oddly confident, Bale allows Irving to be the conflicted and often bungling centre of the story. Bale’s performance encapsulates a man who is so clueless, he believes himself to be clever, while falling passionately in love with the women he surrounds himself with. Bradley Cooper, rocking some very tight curls, plays FBI agent DiMaso as egotistical, charming, but ever so slightly creepy. Cooper makes DiMaso a man who is often foiled by his own grand designs, and has a false sense of pride when it comes to his abilities. Louis CK carries on his run of playing sad sack men who are often put upon by those he trusts and Jeremy Renner rounds out the male cast as a gentle and warm family man, who is entirely too trusting of the people who appear in his life.
Amy Adams, as Sydney, is as much a trickster as her lover Irv, but she has the confidence and skill to run several cons at once. Sydney is ambitious and borderline sociopathic; she cares little for those around her, but becomes entirely wrapped up in the fake persona she creates for herself. Jennifer Lawrence is as messy as Adams is composed; as Rosalyn, she is a volatile mess of a woman, who relies on substances to get her through her disappointing days, and often sets fire to her home using kitchen appliances. She is over the top, tragic but wildly funny – as all of the cast are.
Screenwriters Eric Singer and David O. Russell take a fairly pedestrian story, and certainly one that feels familiar, and creates a funny, over the top and tragic tale that is more about the relationships between the characters, than the story they find themselves embroiled in. each has their moment of redemption, whether they choose to take it or not.
As director, David O. Russell allows the story to spiral, and the characters with it, but always holds onto a modicum of control. The madness bubbles under the surface of the entire film, erupting in moments of barely contained hysteria. The director coaxes wonderfully ludicrous performances from his actors, with the women coming out on top of the game, but the men not so far behind.
Hysteria and madness are the name of the game in American Hustle, and this dark comedy contains some of the wildest tragedies and biggest hair we have seen on screen in a long time. Lawrence and Adams shine – as always – as they dominate a world run by men, but Bale and Cooper hold their own, even as their hair threatens to act them off the screen. The story meanders slightly, and there are times when it all becomes a little too much, but American Hustle is still one of the finest con artist films we have seen in a long time.