David O. Russell’s American Hustle could probably pass as a Silver Linings Playbook sequel as the movies virtually share the same cast and director, though Hustle comes packed with even more strong performances from its phenomenal leading cast than Playbook’s already stellar showing. Thanks to said phenomenal cast, the movie fits in a rare niche of films that are funny, layered, and lovable enough to be watched repeatedly for years and years after its release. If you haven’t seen it yet, you probably will. The buzz surrounding this movie is no scam, and while it most likely won’t be a runaway frontrunner to win everything in the upcoming awards season, it will deserve every nomination it will inevitably receive.
Based (incredibly loosely) on the Abscam incident in the late 1970s, pot-bellied Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale, who gained 40 pounds for the role) and his newfound partner Sydney Prosser, or, as she’d prefer to be called, Lady Edith Greensly (Amy Adams) run an incredibly successful “business” conning people desperate to avoid debt out of their last dollar. Their success is shortly lived, because soon FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) catches them red-handed. In exchange for their freedom, they must use their unscrupulous skills to help the FBI catch four other con artists. Hot on the trail of Camden, New Jersey mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), who may bend the system at times to do what is best for the city he loves, the characters begin to question how far they would go to get what they want, let alone deserve.
There’s also a generous amount of Jennifer Lawrence peppered through the off-the-wall story as she plays Rosenfield’s blatantly psychotic wife Rosalyn, whose unnecessary stubbornness wedges her smack dab in the middle of the action. Suspicious of Irving’s illegal activities and affairs, but terrified of being the first woman in her family to get a divorce, Rosalyn goes insane 80s-housewife as the story progresses, almost managing to send the operation teetering down on more than one occasion and twisting Irving’s arm to make him admit she’s actually helping. Lawrence, who somehow hysterically portrays the life experience of a 40-something housewife while being only 23 herself, delivers arguably her best performance to date.
Lawrence is a standout in an already fantastic sea of stars, each of who deliver engaging performances brought to life either from the script or improvisation. Cooper can have chemistry with anyone he shares the screen with, and though on-screen reunions with Lawrence are disappointingly nonexistent, he electrifies the screen beside Bale and especially Adams, and even comedian Louis C.K. who plays the funny beaten-down lemon tormented by Cooper’s character you’d expect him to play.
Cooper’s character is just as conniving as the central con-duo, though at least they can admit it. Which is why Bale and Adams get to have so much fun playing people reveling in the glory of screwing over others for personal gain. Bale ages decades before our eyes and crafts a character insanely watchable and likeable for his awfulness. In the meantime Adams switches into her character as easily as her character switches into her own alter ego, keeping an aura of unjustified condescension in every word she says. These two characters start doubting their own methods of deceit as the film goes on, but are already in too deep to turn back, even if it means throwing their own friend Polito under the bus.
Unfortunately, just like the ice-fishing story Cooper’s curly-haired character so desperately wants to hear concluded by C.K., the story ends before any character can really learn their lesson or change their ways, and whatever point the movie was trying to make is purposefully muddled. That’s why the cast got to have so much fun here – because even though their characters should have suffered major consequences for being so proudly despicable, they know all along they’ll hustle away scar-free. They’re living in their own little bubble somewhere in big-corporate America a few decades back and having riotous fun there, and can’t wait to trick you into investing with them.