There’s something to admire in Hollywood con artists. Scheming, ambitious, charismatic and glamorous, they find an ingenius way of making their dreams come true.
So David O Russell’s latest venture has plenty to live up to. Especially when you add in a funky 1970s setting, an original premise loosely based on a true story, and an impressive A-list cast. And for the most part, despite obvious flaws, it’s a highly enjoyable and highly entertaining ride.
It’s 1978 and Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is determined to avoid becoming like his father; a man who worked hard for little reward. Rosenfeld decides to live life by his own rules. So as well as owning a dry cleaning business, he has other creative ways of making money, which become more profitable when he meets his girlfriend Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). She changes to Lady Edith Greensley and willingly shares in his loan scam business.
But things unravel when FBI agent Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper) manages to infiltrate the scam. Di Maso will offer immunity if they help him make four additional arrests. Tempted to just escape to Cuba, Rosenfeld has family commitments and feels he can’t leave. The duo instead adhere to Di Maso’s plan.
And this is where the film starts to get its swagger as we get to see just why Rosenfeld is such a great con man. He knows what to say and how to say it and it’s a joy to watch him in full flow. Di Maso, in awe of Rosenfeld, struggles to assert his authority. Not to mention being smitten by Greensley but having to hold off any feelings until the operations are over.
But what starts off as a simple scam to capture a few minor politicians, runs into complications when Di Maso wants to infiltrate more people. Di Maso’s ambition opposes Rosenfeld’s rules of keeping it small scale, especially when the mob become involved. And chaos ensues as Rosenfeld’s wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) soon ends up part of the scheme. Trashy, useless in the kitchen and capable of all kinds of emotional blackmail, she is a wildcard in the pack. Impossible to control, she indivertibly threatens to ruin everything.
While American Hustle isn’t as cool or sophisticated as it would like to be, it’s still hugely entertaining with a superb ensemble on top form. With weaker co-stars Bale would steal the show. His portrayal is the perfect balance of slickness and sleaziness, with the skill of being able to manipulate people out of their money hilariously merging with his comb over and beer gut. With his controlled world threatening to collapse, Bale is able to show a man caught between all kinds of obligations.
But Adams and Cooper also rise to the occasion. Adams captures the seductive and teasing nature of her part, and leaves us guessing of her motives until the end. Cooper’s comic ability helps to fully explore Di Maso’s reckless ambition as a man with it all to win and everything to lose. Lawrence continues to raise her already impressive reputation and is huge reason as to why her character is convincingly able to manipulate a professional con artist. Vulnerable, vain and foolish, it’s an astonishing performance.
The opening voiceovers are often flat and the ending tries too hard to tie together everything neatly, but the film is an overall delight. As well as the winning performances, there is a great overall pace and neat mix of comedy and drama. The part of Mayor Carmine Polito (played by the excellent Jeremy Renner) helps bring a stronger emotional attachment to the story and acts as a reminder why good people would get involved with such a scheme.
After all, just like Polito, who of us can resist charisma, glamour and the difference we could make with a lot of money?