David O. Russell has done it again. After the success of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook he’s delivered yet another picture that’s being showered with accolades and rightly so. In a sense American Hustle combines the best aspects of its two predecessors and gives them an unique spin. Like The Fighter it’s based on a real story, it’s a genre film and it stars Amy Adams and Christian Bale, like Silver Linings Playbook the film’s about characters who are troubled and peculiar, and it stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. But unlike the previous two pictures it’s a showcase of the stylish 70’s, it’s got a bigger story, more moving parts and a lot more swagger.
American Hustle is all about deception: Bale’s Irving and Adams’ Sydney are con artist who are forced to work with Cooper’s FBI agent Richie when the two get caught and it’s their job to make politicians and mobsters the FBI is after show their hand. Like most movies about these kinds of subjects there are a lot of twists and turns, but the film’s always more about its characters than it is about its plot, which is undoubtedly its greatest strength. O. Russell is an actor’s director, which is evident from the performances he gets out of his actors: Bale’s Irving is a pathetic character but he’s given so much heart that it’s hard not to root for him, Adam’s Sydney is equal parts femme fatale and a woman desperately struggling to get ahead in life, and Cooper does a fine job as seemingly straight man Richie who starts to unravel the further we get into the movie. Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Shea Whigham and many others do a fine job supporting these three leads.
While the film’s set in the 70’s, the time period is not just a setting but almost a main character: the hairstyles, the clothes, the wallpaper, the music, everything oozes 70’s and draws you in. It also makes for some comedic moments, for example when the leads are busy tidying their hair, which often is an elaborate affair. O. Russell’s work here is reminiscent of Scorsese’s classics Goodfellas and Casino, but only on the surface; American Hustle is far less about male machismo than Scorsese’s pictures were. It’s about characters hustling, because they have set high goals for themselves and are determined to chase their dreams, no matter the cost.
American Hustle is an astounding ensemble picture that moves at a brisk pace and is all about its characters. David O. Russell is one of the best directors working today, let’s hope his streak of wonderful films continues. 8/10