David O. Russel’s Silver Linings Playbook was a massive success in 2012 and cemented his status as a maker of great films and potentially even careers in the case of Jennifer Lawrence. His follow up feature, American Hustle, brings together the main players of his last two films, Silver Linings and of course the fantastic ‘The Fighter,’ in a 1970’s mix of con-men, curly hair and big personalities.
Irving (Christian Bale) and Sydney (Amy Adams) are a pair of con-artists who make a killing ripping off folks with bad credit who are looking for a loan. However, when they are busted by the F.B.I, agent Richie DiMaso, he forces them to take part in an undercover scheme to bring down corrupt politicians and public figures, including good hearted politician Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). With a host of crazy character and companions, including Irving’s wife (Jennifer Lawrence), things get out of control fast and their skills and relationships are pushed to the test.
Electrifying. That’s the first word that comes to mind when trying to describe the individual performances by the cast of ‘American Hustle.’ You will have a difficult time finding a film with a better cast that put in more powerful and flawless performances. The women, Adams and Lawrence are absolutely incredible, swapping between almost unbearable sexiness, manic insecurities, and vicious ambition. Bradley Cooper is absolutely insane, like a man who was already a hyper, scrambled, success fueled mess before snorting a bucket of cocaine. Bale and Renner put in cool, calculated but wonderful performances. You will struggle to find a film that crams so much incredible cinema into each individual scene. Where the film is not quite flawless, is when you put all those scenes together.
The film’s opening portion gets us up to speed with the current situation, and brings our con-artists together, and this is wonderful stuff. We genuinely believe and can see that Sydney and Irving are just perfect for each other. It’s a lovely romance, crammed into twenty minutes. Then reality sets in and we realize we’re in for a rocky ride. The relationship between Adams and Bale kept me engrossed in the sense that we can never quite get a hold on Adams. We know that Irving is still in love, but torn between that and the love for his son. But with Sydney, we just can’t tell if she is actually interested in ‘cheating on him’ or moving on or whether she is trying to make him jealous. The uncertainty adds an extra element to every scene she’s in.
In terms of the 1970’s style, the film just brings it thick and hard. The opening credits are even done using the old fashioned logos for each studio, and this tiny little touch just further brings you into the world that O Russell is trying to present. Then the haircuts, the clothes, the demeanors are cartoonish enough to be bold and fit the big screen but just real enough to seem authentic. The film always feels big and this is a large reason for that.
The story itself is a great one, no doubt. It’s complex, fun, deep and full of twists and turns. It has serious moments and moments that are flat out hilarious. The problem is that at times something just seems to be missing, a glue that makes us understand what is actually going on. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with ambiguity in movies, and I don’t need to be told exactly what is happening. But I got the sense that this plot wasn’t supposed to be confusing, it was just supposed to surprise you at times. However, sometimes a scene would be absolutely amazing, when you consider it independently, but somehow it’s connection and importance to the plot was difficult to discern. This was not always the case by any means, but the lack of some kind of narrative glue slightly hurt the impact and strength of the story.
That being said, having seen the whole film, it all comes together quite nicely and once we see the conclusion, all is pretty much forgiven, at least it was from my perspective. I was engrossed during this movie, largely due to the characters. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. I also couldn’t take my eyes off of Amy Adam’s dresses. But that’s a different conversation.
A not quite perfect, but still absolutely fantastic film that has an energy the likes of which I haven’t seen in a film in quite some time. I have a feeling that a lot of people will be disappointed by the film. I don’t think I was. It was just so flat out enjoyable that I ignored every one of its flaws, and I am not ashamed of that.