DIRECTOR: David O Russell
CAST: Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Michael Pena, Alessandro Nivola, Elisabeth Rohm
CLASSIFICATION: 16 LS
RUNNING TIME: 137 minutes
FUNNY and well-cast, American Hustle takes its cue from a real-life FBI sting and then ad-libs the dialogue and smashes together several genres for crazy results.
Director David O Russell gives his stellar cast enough room to breathe life into the characters, but still manages to corral them into telling the story, keeping it moving along briskly.
Though it involves an intricate sting operation, which becomes more elaborate as the movie ticks along, he keeps the focus on the development of the characters, so it is never just a caper or merely a farce or a love triangle only – but all of the above.
The storyline is centred on brilliant, small-time conman Irving Rosenfeld (Bale), who is forced – with partner Sydney Prosser (Adams) – to help FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper).
They quickly become embroiled in a world of New Jersey Mafia and political power-brokers, all of them out to bribe or seek a bribe.
Every few scenes yet another familiar face pops up – Jeremy Renner is politician Carmine Polito who gets caught up in the middle of the bribery scandal, who almost proves the undoing of Irving when he befriends the conman, while Robert de Niro pops up for a cameo in a darkened back room.
As Irving’s wife, Rosalyn (who could give the game away) Jennifer Lawrence gives a nuanced performance. She turns out to be the best con artist of all of them, despite your initial suspicion that she is not a clever cookie.
Rosenfeld may have the sense to keep the cons small, but he has an appreciation for the big things in life – he wants to be someone of culture. He falls hard for Prosser and then discovers they have something in common, the gift of reinvention, which only makes him love her more.
Art direction, set design costumes and hair design – which includes the scariest comb-over ever from Bale and Cooper’s even scarier curls – all add to a highly detailed visual experience, which is aided by a great 70s soundtrack.
It is important to pay attention to the narration because this counterpoints the visual detail and helps to focus you on the one simple thing all the characters have in common, the focus of the story – they are all out to run a con. Every single one of them.
Rosenfeld and Prosser are the only two who are upfront about their intention to manipulate people while FBI agent DiMaso goes far down the rabbit hole in his quest to dominate the show.
All the characters reinvent themselves in some way, fulfilling their own version of the American Dream, discarding what they don’t like about their own personalities but the biggest scam of them all is the amount of self-delusion floating about.
The ad-libbed dialogue means some of the scenes fizzle away as the actors run out of things to say and simply leave the room. But, mostly the film is a chaotic and delicious maelstrom of mis- direction, oddball characters and nervous energy.
If you liked Boogie Nights or Silver Linings Playbook you will like this.