For anyone waiting for a predecessor to Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, David O. Russell’s American Hustle should fit the bill. With an opening disclaimer that “Some of this actually happened,” it tells you what kind of film you’re walking into. Let’s get one thing straight about Russell’s films though: they may feature some of the best dramatic acting of the year, but are always, essentially, comedies. Just goes to show you how fine of a line it is between drama and comedy. Drama can always be heightened to bring out the comedy, and that’s one thing Russell knows how to do better than most.
Set in 1978, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is a brilliant conman who owns a string of dry cleaning stores and sells glass and art. But all that is a front to what Irving is even better at: being a grifter. After meeting Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) at a pool party, the two begin falling in love and eventually, Irving asks Sydney to be his partner in crime, with Sydney posing as Lady Edith Greensly of London royalty.
Soon enough, FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) makes a bust and forces them into a world of bigger cons involving the dangerous world of fake sheiks, mobsters, and politicians. DiMaso is hellbent on bringing down corrupt politicians, beginning with New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). That is if Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), Irving’s wife, can manage to keep her mouth shut to keep everyone from sleeping with the fishes. Irving calls her “the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate.”
Russell may have found his dream cast, with an ensemble that’s essentially a greatest hits of his most recent films. Cooper and Lawrence are back after Silver Linings Playbook, for which Lawrence took home an Oscar this year and will likely be nominated again next year. Bale and Adams return to Russell as lovers after always being at each other’s throats in The Fighter. Another surprise guest returns from a previous outing, but I won’t ruin it.
Bale as Irving is like nothing he’s ever played before. From the first scene he’s found with his shirt unbuttoned, gut hanging out, while trying to fix the world’s worst comb over/toupée this side of Donald Trump. The whole cast is a comedic powder keg, giving their all in a world of weirdos, each one more desperate than the last. Russell and co-writer Eric Warren Singer keep things moving at breakneck speed, with hilarious dialogue and surprising twists and turns. A few of my colleagues don’t see what all the fuss is about, but American Hustle is one of the few true masterpieces of 2013 and deserves all the accolades that come with it.
Photos courtesy Columbia Pictures