The worlds of the last two films of David O. Russell collide in American Hustle to explosive results. The Fighter stars Christian Bale and Amy Adams appear with Silver Linings Playbook leads Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. The film is a "based on true events" tale of political corruption all centered on new-to-the-Russell-world Jeremy Renner as a New Jersey politico who gets sucked into a scandal that would forever be known as Abscam.
In American Hustle, it almost plays out like a Greek tragedy. See, Renner’s Mayor Carmine Polito’s heart is firmly in the right place. He has helped get gambling legalized in New Jersey and now simply has to get some hotels and casinos built in Atlantic City to get the people of his area back to work. The thing is, this is the mid to late 1970s and there is no money out there to be had. The government is strapped. Private businesses are laying people off and they can’t financially support it. Polito is in a vicious circle of opportunity meets economic despair.
Bale is Irving Rosenfeld, and he’s a man who has several legitimate businesses, but makes the bulk of his money selling fraudulent art and securing money for people who will never see it. He meets Adams’ Sydney Prosser and the two immediately hit it off and become a scamming team, as well as lovers. But, Bale’s married to Lawrence’s Rosalyn Rosenfeld… and boy, is she a handful. She knows Irving will never divorce her and seems to live to make him miserable.
The twists and turns, politically, criminally and romantically, are fast and furious in American Hustle and all told with a soundtrack that rocks. The film sizzles with every frame. Russell is inching closer and closer to Oscar gold with his films, coming closest with Silver Linings Playbook just last year. Judging by all the critical awards he’s been earning for his film, like the New York Critics naming it Best Picture, he may have his breakthrough film with American Hustle.
It is a Best Picture quality film, and between the score, the pacing, the editing and above all else, the performances that stem from Russell’s screenplay, this is one powerful piece of work. Russell (and co-writer Eric Singer) is a master at writing great parts for his performers. Each one in this film turns in some incredible work, with many easily looking at their own Oscar nominations.
Like he did with Out of the Furnace, Bale is the standout. He simultaneously possesses a powerful presence, yet is easily manipulated into situations that the audience just knows are not going to work out well for him. Adams digs deep and portrays a character unlike any we’ve ever seen her tackle. There is one scene in particular with Irving, where she goes in and out of her real self and “pretend” character she’s created for the Abscam sting that is a study in dramatic duality. She is playing him… or is she playing Cooper’s FBI agent? You just don’t know, and that is all due to how Adams plays this mixed-up woman.
Cooper commands his character, and there are several scenes where he chews the scenery in the best of ways. He commands the screen every scene he is in, and the moments he shares with each of his cast mates, it seems as if he elevates their game. Renner plays his role with a reserved sense of purpose that we’ve also never seen from him. The way he has crafted his characterization is why at its core, hinted at in the American Hustle trailer, the film is heartbreaking.
Then, there is Lawrence. She is a hurricane of hot mess whose loose cannon ways has the audience completely unnerved throughout. That is because you feel as if she could unravel at any moment. And given what all these characters have gone through throughout the film, with each trying to see it to some kind of self-serving conclusion, Lawrence is the X-factor that keeps the viewer wondering how this entire thing can possibly play out.
Our American Hustle review finds that Russell’s film is easily one of the best of the year… and may very well be the best.