“We were so successful for so long because we kept it just small enough,” says con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale). “If you were so successful, how come you ended up in this room with me right now taking orders from me?” replies Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), an FBI agent who busted both Rosenfeld and his seductive partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) and now has them using their talent of deception to entrap New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) in the dramedy American Hustle.
In the late 1970s when Jimmy Carter was President, disco was all the rage, and permanents were the popular hair style, Rosenfeld and Prosser made a living coning desperate people with very bad credit out of their savings. It was a good life; they were partners both in business and in the bedroom and had more money than they really needed until they get caught by DiMaso who was posing as a mark. But instead of putting them in jail for three to five years, DiMaso decides to use the con artists to go after the mayor of New Jersey.
With the stakes constantly rising as more and more powerful people become involved in the expanding sting/con operation (including power-brokers, congressman and the mafia as extra targets in the FBI’s operation), Irving begins to fear the worst for Sydney and himself. He struggles to come up with another way out, especially when his unpredictable and boozy wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), becomes involved as part of his cover and threatens to bring the entire operation down and quite possibly get him killed.
Based on actual events, American Hustle is a quirky, inventive comedy/drama that has two of the best performances this year on the silver screen. Christian Bale delivers another masterful performance as Irving Rosenfeld, a con artist who slowly begins to hate the con and his choices in life. Bale, almost unrecognizable with a bad comb over hairstyle, mustache and beard, shades, and a big heavy gut, practically disappears into the role. It’s an Academy Award-nominating performance if there has been one this year.
Amy Adams has the most seductive role of her career as Sydney, Rosenfeld’s lover and partner in crime who’s willing to do whatever it takes to survive and get out from under the FBI. She has wonderful chemistry with Bale and captures both the sly seductress and the frightened, desperate woman who only wants a clean slate and to start over with the man she loves. It’s the second best performance of her career.
Bradley Cooper delivers a showy, over-the-top performance as DiMaso, an FBI agent more interested in entrapping high profile political figures for career advancement than going after real dangerous criminals. Unfortunately, it’s a performance that comes across forced and uneven. For the first time in her career Jennifer Lawrence gives an outrageous, silly and unbelievable performance as Rosalyn, Irving’s loudmouth, slutty, and overly obnoxious wife. Her accent seems to come and go throughout the film and it’s the first time the audience is likely to ‘catch’ her acting.
The production design, costumes, and soundtrack are great and do a fantastic job in bringing back to life what America looked and felt like in the late ’70s, a country that was still recovering from Watergate, just beginning to heal from Vietnam, and dealing with an economic nightmare that had even the President of the United States stumped.
With two stand-out performances, a few very funny scenes, and a clever script, American Hustle while not in the same league as such great con artist films as The Sting or Matchstick Men is still worth catching up on the big screen.
American Hustle was directed by David O. Russell and is rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence.