One year after Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell gathered stars from his two most recent films for the movie which would garner a massive ten Oscar nominations including four acting nods. The film in question was American Hustle which saw Christian Bale and Amy Adams from The Fighter return to play con-artist duo Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser.
Married conman and dry-cleaner Irving had been using Sydney to dupe people by getting his marks to believe she was an English aristocrat named Lady Edith. Irving had also fallen in love with Sydney but he fears that if he leaves his unstable wife then she’ll shop him into the cops. His wife Rosalyn is played by Jennifer Lawrence who is briefly reunited with her Silver Linings Playbook co-star Bradley Cooper who stars here as FBI Agent Richie DiMaso. DiMaso cottons on to Irving and Sydney’s scams and threatens to arrest her unless the pair play along with his plans. What follows is a fictionalised version of the FBI ABSCAM operation as the trio get a fellow agent to play a sheik in order to con a number of politicians and mobsters. One politician they particularly focus their attention on is Carmine Polito, the Mayor of Camden, New Jersey. Like any good caper film the plan soon becomes complicated when feelings begin to get in the way of the scheme. Firstly Richie falls for Sydney, who he only knows as Edith, and this in turn creates a power struggle between the FBI Agent and experienced con man Irving. Secondly Irving and Carmine develop a friendship based on their working class backgrounds and so the former finds it hard to dupe the latter. The unstable Rosalyn then gets herself involved in the plot when Carmine’s wife takes a shine to her and she has to attend an important function. Ultimately it’s revealed that one side has been playing the other all along and I have to say I didn’t see the twist coming at all.
I’d heard several negative things about American Hustle before I watched it and to be fair it took me a while to get into it. But once I’d become accustomed to the tone and rhythm of the dialogue I was swept away by the film’s entertaining narrative. Eric Warren Singer and Russell’s script is well-paced and introduces all the primary players in a way that you understand all of their motivations. However, one of my problems with the film was that it contained my pet peeve; the multiple expositional voiceover which in this case is delivered by Irving, Sydney and Richie. American Hustle certainly looks the part and has been particularly singled out for its characters’ hairstyles. Each of the five central characters has an incredibly noticeable hairpiece which matches their personality perfectly and so its odd that the film didn’t get a nomination in the Best Hair and Make-Up category. Once again all of Russell’s key players were nominated for acting Oscars meaning that, for the second time in a row, one of his films had a nomination in each acting category. Bradley Cooper once again combined his manic energy with a more sensitive side to play Richie, a man who’d been overlooked for so long and was now coming into his own. Christian Bale piled on the pounds and donned a combover to play the mild-mannered yet devious Irving and he looks to be having a great time doing it. Meanwhile Amy Adams is perfectly cast as the adorable yet scheming Sydney even if she does let Edith’s English accent slip from time to time. In supporting roles, Jeremy Renner shone as Carmine as he gave an enigmatic turn as the Mayor of a city that everybody loved whilst both Louis CK and Robert De Niro also put in memorable performances. But once again it was Jennifer Lawrence who stole the show playing the unpredictable Rosalyn so well that you miss her every time she’s not on screen. Lawrence missed out on an Oscar this time round but I feel that her performance is as good as it was in Silver Linings Playbook.
American Hustle is definitely a film that is stylised to within an inch of its life but there’s no denying that it looks good. Every song choice makes sense and I will never be able to hear ‘Live and Let Die’ again without thinking of Jennifer Lawrence manically cleaning and wearing marigolds. There’s no denying that American Hustle is an entertaining piece of film-making but at the same time I feel that, of the three of Russell’s nominated films, it’s the least spectacular. In fact I don’t think it would stand-up to repeat viewings in the same way as The Fighter would and therefore I’m struggling to understand why it’s been as well-received as it has. Although I was entertained by it, it’s not a particularly remarkable piece of work but by now it seems that anything that Russell directs will instantly be an Oscar favourite come awards season.