Con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are forced to work with FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) after being caught out running a loan scam. However, what starts out as a straightforward sting operation soon becomes embroiled in the world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.
In the opening scene of American Hustle, we see an overweight Christian Bale meticulously attaching a hairpiece to mask his baldness. So much attention is paid to each strand of hair; it’s a work of art. By the end of it, he actually looks pretty good, and that perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the film.
See, practically everyone in American Hustle is hiding behind a façade, whether it’s part of a con to bring down corrupt politicians, or simply in the privacy of their own home. Everyone is putting on a front, be it for self-preservation or to attract or please the ones they love. It’s an interesting theme and one that really lets you get inside the characters, their motivations and their aspirations.
This depth to the characters is essential as American Hustle’s story isn’t really its strong point. The ‘hustle’ part of the story is loosely based on a true story, the Abscam operation of the 1970s and 80s, but never really has the required depth and thus feels rather shallow. I found it difficult to really care about the actual con and the payoff at the end was somewhat underwhelming. The pacing is also a little erratic with certain sections that lull and feel too drawn out.
However, as with all David O Russell films, the story is largely of little consequence; it’s the characters who form the basis of the drama, and this is where American Hustle really excels. O Russell has assembled quite the cast and pretty much everyone delivers a stellar performance. Christian Bale as the overweight, balding lead is magnificent as we see him transform from confident grifter in the outset to someone who’s way out of his depth once the operation gets into full swing.
Amy Adams, who plays a quasi femme fatale character, is also brilliant as she constantly keeps you (and the other characters) guessing where her allegiances really lie. Bradley Cooper plays, well, Bradley Cooper whilst Jennifer Lawrence is superbly trashy yet vulnerable as Irving’s wife. Robert De Niro also crops up in an uncredited role and absolutely steals those scenes, which almost makes you wish he had a more prominent role.
Many have claimed that American Hustle plays a little like a Scorsese-lite film, borrowing heavily from films such as Goodfellas but without the same substance and depth, and there is some truth in this. There are definite nods to Scorsese’s films but American Hustle does manage to find its own identity, sticking its tongue firmly in its cheek as it does so.
As with O Russell’s previous film, Silver Lining’s Playbook, American Hustle’s story might only get you so far but the ensemble’s performances ensure you become invested in characters you care about even if they’re tremendously flawed and not altogether likeable, and that’s not an easy feat.
- Stellar performances, particularly from Bale and Adams
- Great period setting, clothes, hairstyles, etc
- Jennifer Lawrence singing Live and Let Die
- Somewhat weak story and climax
- Dodgy pacing at times