By Andrew Bevevino
Deceive to achieve. Get dirty to get ahead. Scam to survive. Such is life in David O. Russel’s crime-drama “American Hustle.” It’s tough to tell which way is up in this story of cons within cons and double-crosses after double-crosses. Always masterfully misleading or misdirecting, the intricacy of these illusions is what makes this film so fantastic.
Set in a 1970s New Jersey, the story centers on a couple of con artists, Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, who have been caught in a sting operation by federal agents. Irving and Sydney are forced to orchestrate an operation exposing a number of corrupt politicians. As the story unfolds, these criminal masterminds navigate their way through the sharp twists and turns of this enormous cheat.
Irving Rosenfeld is a New York City native with a comb-over that could kill. Played by Christian Bale, he’s a con-man from head to toe, even sporting a hair-do that’s meant to mislead. Irving owns a few fraudulent businesses, ranging from counterfeit art galleries to phony loan agencies. A successful con-noisseur, he lives semi-happily with his wife Rosalind, played by Jennifer Lawrence, and his son Danny. Overall, Irving’s a smart and savvy guy who‘s a master of the rip-off.
Irving operates his businesses by himself until he meets the wonderfully sexy Sydney Prosser. Prosser, portrayed by Amy Adams, is an intelligent and beautiful con-natural. After falling hopelessly in love with Irving, Sydney agrees to help him with his perfidious profession. Sydney transforms into the elegant Lady Edith Greensly, a lovely English woman with banking connections in Great Britain. With this alternate personality, Sydney helps Irving sell bogus art and push fake loans.
Both Bale and Adams put on incredible performances, playing their respective con maestros with brilliance and intensity. Bale continues to amaze with his ability to morph into his characters, putting on a Santa-sized pot-belly for this role. His dedication to the part paid off as he portrayed Irving as a cool and in-control con veteran. Likewise, Adams threw herself into the role of Sydney Prosser, flashing her characterizing smarts when she needed to and turning up the sex-appeal when she wanted to. Both performers were equally awesome. Their character dichotomy made this film an overachiever.
Adding to the knockout power of the cast are Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner. Lawrence’s role as Rosalind was both humorous and powerful, unleashing line after line of acidic wit. Renner’s part as New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito was both sympathetic and organic, portraying an authentic sense of political power and social service. Both of these actors rounded out the superpower of this star-saturated cast.
Life is grand for Irving and Sydney, making boat-loads of cash and living out a sickeningly sweet love story. However, things turn sour when the duo is arrested by federal agent Richie DiMaso, played by Bradley Cooper. DiMaso, overambitious and self-interested, forces the two to use their unique skill-sets to catch politicians taking bribes. Formulating a complex con involving an imitation Arab sheik, they expose the corrupt Congressmen.
The only flaw that I found with this movie was the performance of Bradley Cooper. Shown as a melodramatic, screaming sissy, Cooper’s portrayal of Richie DiMaso was way overdone. Cooper was so over the top that he became unbelievable as DiMaso. David O. Russel would have erased a major blemish if Cooper wasn’t burnt to a crisp.
Headlining “American Hustle” as the major themes are deceit and dishonesty. The story bobs and weaves through plot twists that always keep you guessing. Without careful attention, it’s easy to get lost in this spider web of storyline. The blissfully baffling misdirection provides for some emotional fireworks, making this film all the more enjoyable.
Adding an ironic flare to this already explosive tale was the classic 70s wardrobe. Chest hair pops from vintage button-downs and massive rings and necklaces dangle from nearly every character. The flashy and over-the-top clothing speaks to the theme of disguise and deceit, shielding us from knowing even the true physical identity of the characters.
The character narration also provides a satisfying element of depth. Leaving no cinematic stone unturned, all of the characters are developed expertly. With its narrative style, “American Hustle” has been compared to Martin Scorsese’s gangster masterpiece “Goodfellas.” That comparison is more than fair with the genius direction of David O. Russel.
“American Hustle” is a sensational, thought provoking story complete with drama, thrills, and humor. The movie’s star-spangled cast was nearly perfect, and the writing and direction were excellent. Among the many films released this holiday season, you should absolutely see “American Hustle.”
Out of 5 stars, “American Hustle” gets 4.5
Next movie reviewed by Andrew Bevevino will be “The Wolf of Wall Street.”