The third part in his own self-proclaimed reinvention (one that’s so far brought with it The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, two Academy Award winners), American Hustle finds David O. Russell at his most playful, tackling the infamous ABSCAM scandal – a hugely publicised FBI sting into political corruption – with a tremendous amount of wit, vigour and vibrancy. While certainly not without its faults, it’s a film that’s more often than not massively entertaining, and a constant platform for spectacular performances and outlandish 70s fashion.
Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is a successful con man, aided by his partner in crime Sydney Prosser (a spectacular Amy Adams). When caught red handed by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), they’re blackmailed into using their manipulative ways to help ensnare corrupt politicians. Using a fake reinvention of Atlantic City’s gambling mecca as their bait, it’s not long until their plan hits its stride. But as they’re sucked in deeper, it becomes increasingly more difficult for Irving and Sydney to remain in control.
Written by Eric Singer (O. Russell reportedly helped out in the latter stages), American Hustle is a wildly entertaining and electrifying romp that, as the opening title card so proudly points out, is partly true. It’s less about the intricacies of the elaborate and often difficult-to-follow scheme, and more about the dirty tricks, backstabbing and one-upmanship that erupts from it. The film works better this way in that it’s far more interested in delivering solid laughs and electric wordplay than anything in the way of depth or realism.
This freewheeling approach from O. Russell results in a couple of inconsistencies here and there. But when weighed up against how fun it is to watch Irving wrestling with his unfortunate combover or Sydney and Irving’s volatile wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) laying into one another, they quickly become unimportant. The ensemble cast work wonders under O. Russell’s direction, with each one delivering as memorable performance as the last full of quirks that unravel over the course of the film.
It’s perhaps the scrutiny into character and what lengths some people will go to in order to live a different life and be a different person that becomes the most interesting aspect of American Hustle, and provides a nice undercurrent to the lunacy. It seems there’s method to O. Russell’s madness. And while these intricacies may not show themselves upon initial viewing (they do trickle out the more the film is chewed over), who cares when what you’re presented with is such a colourful, well designed and superbly acted blast.