Directed by David O. Russell - Written by David O. Russell and Eric Singer - Produced by a ton o' folks - Starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Jack Huston, Michael Peña, Robert DeNiro
"Some of this actually happened" reveals American Hustle's disclaimer card to chuckles from the audience. From the very first frame, David O. Russell is playing with us, and he doesn't stop until the credits roll. It's often unclear as to who's conning who in this brash, wildly entertaining, and frequently amusing exploration of the Abscam sting-operation of the late 70's and early 80's. At the heart of this film is its standout performance, unsurprisingly that of Christian Bale as the potbellied, scam-artist extraordinaire Irving Rosenfeld, who finds himself and his mistress (Amy Adams in mostly excellent form) wrapped up with the FBI after a con of theirs goes bad. A laughably permed, frequently bare-chested Bradley Cooper plays the FBI agent who offers the duo a free pass if they help nab a group of politicians for corruption (primarily, Jeremy Renner's do-good Camden mayor Polito). Cooper is wonderfully over-assured as Agent DiMaso, who chronically assumes himself smarter than he really is. The love triangle between the two con artists and Cooper is at the core of this film, but Rosenfeld's ever-impeditive wife, played by Jennifer Lawrence, also has her moments to shine. Whether she's whirling about her living room in full cleaning garb to "Live and Let Die" or accidentally lighting any number of household items on fire, Lawrence is splendidly unpredictable in this role. Surely, she won't nab a consecutive Oscar and it's hard to call her "scene-stealing" with so many great performances in the film, but there's no denying that this is one of Lawrence's most memorable roles yet.
From Cooper's perm to Bale's "fashion sense" to the countless sequences playing out to rock and disco music, American Hustle feels like an over-the-top pastiche of the best and worst of 1970's culture. Even with The Wolf of Wall Street hitting theaters now, it wouldn't be out of the question to jest that Hustle may in fact be the best Scorsese film this year. Indeed, so much of the film feels like an homage to that director and, in a greater sense, the iconic crime films of the 1970's. DeNiro's brief appearance as a veteran mobster feels like a direct invocation of these great films and his scene crackles with tension. What makes American Hustle so entertaining is that (like many of Scorsese's films) it manages to tackle an essentially serious subject with a grin and a more than substantial dose of retrospective amusement. It's easy to see why so many critics are calling this one of the best films of the year, as it near seamlessly blends great performances (with all the expected ad-libbing), an intriguing premise, energetic cinematography, spot-on costuming, and an intricate, funny script. While it falters on occasion due to pacing and how neat of a bow it ties on its ending, American Hustle is still an extremely entertaining, highly recommendable film.
See it: If you're looking for a plain-old good time at the movies, for American Hustle is a smorgasbord of loud entertainment, quotable comedy ("Don't put metal in the science oven!"), and genuine quality from start to finish.
Pass: If you seek only a film with either the commanding power of The Fighter or the off-beat resonance of Silver Linings Playbook, for American Hustle, though perhaps David O. Russell's most entertaining film yet, is not exactly his most poignant or his most meaningful.