Film Review: American Hustle

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Plot: Set in the late 1970’s, a successful con-artist (Christian Bale) and his girlfriend (Amy Adams) are caught by the FBI, and forced to work under Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who wants to make several high profile busts. But as their scheme progresses, DiMaso puts everybody in jeopardy when he aims to take down a major New Jersey politician (Jeremy Renner).

Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel/Sony-Columbia
Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel/Sony-Columbia

When you have a film with a cast that includes Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner, and is also directed by David O. Russell, who helmed last year’s fantastic Silver Linings Playbook, odds are it’s going to be a pretty damn good movie. American Hustle is pure entertainment. There’s no question the film has its share of intense and dramatic moments, but at the end of the day, this is a comedy, and boy is it a good one. Every single one of these characters is charisma personified, and we can thank these fantastic actors for that, all of whom are at the top of their game.

I knew I was going to love this movie from the first ten seconds. I won’t spoil too much, but it’s basically just Christian Bale getting ready in his hotel room with no dialogue. It is a hilarious scene. I’ve never seen Bale in a performance like this, as the first half basically requires him to be purely comedic. He nails it. Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a super smart con-man, but he’s not the slick hustler you’d imagine. He’s got a beer belly, and while suave at times, he’s sort of neurotic and eccentric. As dramatic and powerful as he was in Out of the Furnace, Bale is even better in this film. Irving eventually takes a back seat to some of these other great characters, and shifts into more of a typical Bale performance in the second half, quiet and subdued. I loved every minute he was on screen though. He’s a protagonist you unquestionably root for as he is the most sensible character in the entire film, and the one who has to deal with all these nutballs. It feels like the entire weight of the world falls on this guy’s shoulders.

Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel/Sony-Columbia
Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel/Sony-Columbia

Amy Adams plays Sydney Prosser, who Irving falls in love with. She quickly becomes his right hand woman in all his schemes, faking a glorious British accent throughout most of the movie. The first half is very much her film, and while it moves slow, I loved her and Bale’s chemistry so much, I didn’t care. Adams is Oscar-worthy here, just an extremely likable character who wants nothing more then to have fun in Irving’s playhouse. As great as Adams was though, there’s another actress who rips the movie away from everybody in the second half.

When you look at Jennifer Lawrence’s career, it’s just silly. She is an absolute lock for another Academy Award nomination, and honestly, she could very well win back-to-back Oscars. While barely in the first half, once she comes into the film, she completely steals the movie. I was in stitches every time she spoke. Lawrence plays Rosalyn, Irving’s wife. They have an adopted kid, but it’s been apparent for a while that her and Irving aren’t on good terms, and pseudo-separated. Rosalyn is a walking time bomb. Every time she walks into a room, there’s potential for complete and utter disaster. I absolutely love this character, she’s just a complete whack job. There’s a scene that involves a microwave where Lawrence delivers this mini-monologue, and when she was finished, the entire audience in my theater erupted into applause.

Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel/Sony-Columbia
Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel/Sony-Columbia

But for all the praise I’m heaping on Lawrence and everybody else, my favorite performance in the entire film may have been Bradley Cooper. If you thought he was funny in The Hangover, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Cooper plays an FBI agent who works with Irving, and is obsessed with making a name for himself. He thinks he’s the hottest thing since sliced bread, and goes off on these tangents that are just gut busting. He sort of reminded me of Mark Wahlberg’s character in The Departed. He also has great chemistry with his boss, played nicely by Louis C.K. I’ve never been a huge Louie fan, but I loved him in this. There’s a long running joke between the two of them that I didn’t think would work at first, but it’s actually really brilliant.

Speaking of Louie, he’s another great supporting character along with Jeremy Renner. Renner’s character gets short changed a bit, but he’s still integral to the plot, and whenever on screen, he’s able to keep up with all the other great performances. There’s definitely a huge level of sympathy for the character as well.

I’ve been going on and on about the acting, but director David O. Russell really deserves just as much credit, and should definitely get an Oscar nomination himself. Even in a comedy like this, he adds these subtle touches that bring a certain energy and tone that really make the film what it is. There’s a sequence at a huge party where Jennifer Lawrence’s character marches towards a group of powerful business men. The way Russell shoots her walking over brings a level of suspense and tension to a comedic moment that I haven’t seen in a long time.

Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel/Sony-Columbia
Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel/Sony-Columbia

For as great as all the characters are though, the plot is a bit flimsy, taking a while to get going. While a satisfying conclusion, it did end abruptly, and was fairly anti-climactic. These characters deserved better. And while everybody’s chemistry is off the charts, there were times where certain characters were undercut by flashier performances. This happened to Bale a few times, where the scene should have focused on him to progress the story, but he was sort of put in the background.

While the story was secondary to the characters, I was still very much into it. Honestly, these characters were so damn good, I could have cared less if they even had a plot. I was thoroughly engaged just watching these people interact with each other. I could watch them in ten more films. The 70’s backdrop was also fantastic, and the music choices were 100% spot on, especially the first scene. It’s just infused with great acting and direction, and actually has sort of an Argo feel, but less serious. Go see American Hustle – you will walk out with a giant smile on your face.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Really Great)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.