Writer: Casey Lee
Overall: 4.0 Out of 5
Cast: 5.0 Out of 5
Plot: 4.0 Out of 5
Effects: 4.0 Out of 5
Cinematography: 4.0 Out of 5
Watch this if you liked: "Goodfellas", "The Fighter" and "Silver Linings Playbook".
Although Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) owns a few barely profitable legitimate businesses around New York, he has always been making the big bucks as a con artist; selling forged art and running an unscrupulous loan company. When Irving is enraptured by Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who has the looks and a mind as sharp as his, they both decide to be partners in Irving's dirty moneymaking schemes and in love, despite Irving being married to single mother Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and had adopted her son. Their partnership flourishes, with Sydney encapsulating herself as a royalty with 'banking connections' in England, to the extent that it draws the attention of agent Richard DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) from the FBI, who quickly puts an end to their illegitimate venture. Instead of putting both Irving and Sydney behind bars, however, Richard gives them a proposition to cooperate with the FBI to get other high-flying con artists convicted and they would be pardoned from their crimes.
Based loosely in the 'some of this stuff actually happened' way on the real life FBI ABSCAM investigations from the late 1970s, any follower of David O Russell's work, especially if they have been paying attention to his last two Oscar-winning ones, would not be expecting a fact-based retelling of the controversial operation, but borrowing the framework in the 2010 Black List screenplay by Eric Warren Singer to be a platform for Russell's keen interesting in writing and directing complicated character dynamics. Switch out the blue-collared rough and tough neighbourhood from "The Fighter" or the modern suburbia of "Silver Linings Playbook" with the glitzy shine of 70s disco, Duke Elington music, velvet coats and the first microwave, and you would feel back in the familiar in-depth character study mode about ambition, greed, corruption, and discarding emotional attachments in order to survive and being free.
Admittedly, these themes were explored in Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas", and the stylistic approach of the cinematography and character-driven movements here may draw comparisons, but it's been 24 years since we've seen anything made close to that calibre that a refreshment of the memory would seem like a complement to "American Hustle".
Like all of Russell's films, the biggest enjoyment and emotion, of course, comes from the cast which feels like a major reunion of the actors that had worked with Russell in "The Fighter" and "Silver Linings Playbook", who have roles as headliners or unmentioned appearances (there is some gratification when you spot them). For the most part, the ever changing dynamics is never dull when they revolve around an unrecognisable Christian Bale who has packed on some weight, a fast-talking Bradley Cooper and an alluring Amy Adams, though each of them are stronger than the sum of the parts. Jeremy Renner makes his first collaboration with Russell as Mayor Carmine Polito as another firm player in the game. Once again, the show-stealing performance here is from Jennifer Lawrence, whose turn as Rosalyn is slimy and manipulative but yet seductive that we resign on how she can subtly twist Irving's emotional arm.
Russell's screenplay weaves with twists and turns when the scale of the operation gradually goes over its head with bigger fishes entering the pond, that changes the circumstances and standing between the characters while also peeling away at what drives these characters as it blurs who is outsmarting who towards the end, all compellingly unfolded by the editing of Alan Baugmarten, Jay Cassidy, and Crispin Struthers.
When all is said and done, "American Hustle" is cleverly written and engaging emotional chase with the brand of Russell's directing, and a class of actors from the feet up. Stretching one's luck for third times the charm at the Oscars, when you already have the first two working so well, may appear too greedy but for "American Hustle", it has plenty of charm to get away with it.
Cinema Online, 06 February 2014