In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s the FBI conducted a sting operation involving an fake Arab sheikh and bribes for gaming licenses while building Atlantic City. The resultant scandal known as ABSCAM brought down one U.S. Senator, six members of the House, one member of the New Jersey State Senate, members of the Philadelphia City Council, the Mayor of Camden, New Jersey, and an inspector for the Immigration and Naturalization Service… American Hustle is that story… sort of.
Although American Hustle is very much a fictionalized version of the real story, the film itself is an absolute masterpiece from start to finish. The first thing I said as the credits were rolling (actually, the second thing… the first thing I said was that Amy Adams’ cleavage deserved a credit) was that this is David O. Russell’s Goodfellas… and I don’t believe I’m being hyperbolic when I say that.
The film opens with Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale, who gained over 40lbs for the role) arranging what may be the most repulsive and incredibly crafted comb-over of all time. His belly sits atop his belt like a beached whale and immediately we get a sense of what this guy is about… he is a con artist, and a very successful one at that. As he moves into another room we see that surveillance cameras are recording something, and his partner, Sydney Prosser (the always stunning Amy Adams) enters, and the tension could not be any thicker… something is not going as planned.
In this opening scene we are also introduced to the eager young FBI agent setting up the scam, Richie Dimaso (Bradley Cooper) and Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), the new jersey politico trying to put New Jersey back on the map with the reopening of Atlantic City and the introduction gambling to the state. It’s tense, it’s harried, and it’s just a taste of what’s to come…
Jump back a few years and we begin to see Irving and Sydney’s lives and how it is they came to work together, and how their con works. As the story progresses, everything becomes tangled and the story takes on a living breathing life of its own… Irving narrating key moments of his life, Sydney narrating hers… and by the time they finally meet up with Richie, the true game is on… and it gets more and more complicated the deeper they all get into this, led by the frenzied zeal of an untethered FBI agent.
Rounding out an incredible cast is Jennifer Lawrence, playing Irving’s rather eccentric wife, Rosalyn. Rosalyn is a mess… probably bipolar, and most certainly put upon in more ways than can be counted… but she is the crazed center of Irving’s otherwise very controlled universe, and more specifically, her son whom Irving has officially adopted is everything to the man. And here is the real trick that the film pulls on you… you will start this movie believing that Irving is the worst sort of creature on the planet… you may have some conflicted emotions after spending a couple of hours with him.
David O. Russell seems to be on quite a streak. In the 90’s he got my attention with Spanking the Monkey and Three Kings… but it has been his most recent output that seems to be finding him in that rarefied air reserved for only the greatest of directors. His previous two films were The Fighter (starring Bale and Adams) and Silver Linings Playbook (starring Cooper and Lawrence)… both films garnering multiple Oscars, and both films being amazing achievements for any lover of film. Culling from the casts of both films shows the respect that he obviously has for his actors and the actor’s respect for their director. Like Scorsese (director of the aforementioned Goodfellas), Russell seems to understand what makes for a good team… and this cast works very well with this director.
Sadly, I am not doing this film justice in this review… and giving away any other aspects of the plot or the pacing of this movie would be criminal on my part. So much of the pleasure I had in watching this was seeing how everything unfolded and laid itself out. There were a couple of surprise cameos and actors that I did not expect to see… and the tension throughout this movie had my legs cramping with the stress of the unknown. By the time the final frame rolled, I was in awe, and I felt an energy and a level of excitement coursing through my veins that I rarely feel after seeing a movie. Simply put, American Hustle is exhilarating… and for something that is sort of based on reality, shockingly unexpected and fun.
I have not seen many other contenders for Best Picture this year (still need to see 12 Years a Slave), but I would not be surprised if this film walks away with accolades and awards aplenty. The acting was amazing throughout, and the direction was spectacular. Very much a period piece, American Hustle will leave your skin irritated from all the polyester, your clothes reeking of Brut, your sense of good taste reeling, and you will love every repugnant moment of it.
Wow… Batman got fat,
Cornelius J. Blahg