The con game may be the subject of David O. Russell’s American Hustle, but the real star of the movie is the 1970s. The 70s was the decade that was the peak for American filmmaking and changed the style and production of cinema. While the era may be long gone, directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and Richard Linklater have preserved and idolized the 70s through pictures such as Boogie Nights and Dazed and Confused, which reveal the exuberance of youth during that time. Like those two pictures, American Hustle captures not only the style and thrill of the 70s, but also the spirit, making it wildly entertaining and an attentive look at the decade.
Opening up with a title indicating that the movie is somewhat based on true events, American Hustle centers around Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), who besides running a group of laundromats and forging art is a con man. He acts as a banker, promising big loans to grifters and gamblers to only swindle them of $5,000. Rosenfeld deeply cares for adoptive son Danny but has to constantly deal with his overbearing wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), who refuses to divorce him. But soon Irving is joined by Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a woman who he first meets at a dinner party, in his con business. She poses as a British aristocrat and together they steal from multiple investors and spread Irving’s operation. Eventually though FBI Agent Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper) catches them in the center of crime and offers them freedom only if they help him out on an operation that involves the Mayor of Camden, New Jersey, crooked members of the Senate and Congress, and the mob.
With its use of voiceovers and rapid cutting, American Hustle will no doubt ring comparisons to the direction of Martin Scorsese, but I found it more akin to The Sting, which also manages to take frequent turns and twists in plot. David O. Russell pays homage to the 1973 classic, but makes his movie have its own since of originality. He focuses in on the strained love triangle between Irving, Sydney, and Richie as well as the Rosenfelds’ failing marriage. As his past work has shown, Russell excels at displaying the anxiety and angst of human characters, often with a bizarre comic edge, and he makes the ensemble of American Hustle eccentric but believable. Bale is in excellent form as Irving and Adams, an always reliable actress, is phenomenal as a sultry temptress. Cooper also does a strong job and further proves himself to be a serious actor and one of the strongest leading men in Hollywood and Lawrence continues to evidence her comic brilliance. It helps that Russell has enlisted the best comedian working today, Louis C. K., for a supporting role as well as an always welcome though short appearance by Robert De Niro.
Like Russell’s last picture, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle is by no means a flawless movie and at times feels a bit unfocused and drags at certain sections. However, a rousing conclusion and some stirring performances more than redeem the bumps and this is one of the juiciest pleasures cinema has brought in 2013.