Expectations will be defied with American Hustle, a crime study laced with black humor and set in the 70’s, loosely based on the infamous ABSCAM scandal. Much like Irving Rosenfeld in this film, David O. Russell is consistently moving towards reinvention and he enjoys playing against genre tropes through individual characters instead of the canvas as a whole. Played with commitment as usual by Christian Bale, Rosenfeld can best be described as a modest scam artist with a charm that ironically comes from his honest approach. His slouched posture dignifies his humble approach to skimming five grand off of desperate people whom in his eyes deserve exactly what they get. The risks however never seem to justify the means until seductive and sophisticated Sidney Prosser played by the magnificent Amy Adams enters the picture. Sidney is essentially the fire to his restraint in their unpredictable affair which in itself subtly hints at the revelation that will approach.

Irving is by no means the typical convention of a playboy, yet there is no question to the motives or attractions that gravitates Sydney to him. Irving allows her to let go of her insecurities and self-delusions and inspires her to embrace reinvention and discover her inner strength. There is no offer more lucrative for someone at odds with their own identity. The one consistent theme that runs throughout the loose narrative is the question of authenticity and the charade that is artificiality. O. Russell has never really hidden the fact that his interest in character study outweighs his interest in story but when you’re dealing with this satiric approach and let talented actors improvise their characters, it becomes as if we’re joining them on the road to discovery. Irving’s wife Rosalyn seems tailor made for Jennifer Lawrence and certainly shows her maturity and growth. Despite Rosalyn’s spiteful entrapment, their son keeps Sydney motivated and his dedication to convincing other people they’re worth more than they are helps him serve his purpose. The chaotic foil appears as FBI agent Richie DiMaso filled out by Bradley Cooper in his most manic performance to date. Throughout the undisciplined tone shadowing the excessive era on display there is no clear cut straight and narrow. The narration teases that O. Russell might be chasing Scorsese, then you get the loud fashion and soundtrack and the impression leads you somewhere else until the screwball antics kick in yet again. After awhile there’s a hypnotism underneath the surface and you find yourself identifying with everyone being bullied and scammed. There can be no accusations of shifting predictability as the suspense of the main characters doing possible time in prison gets pushed aside by their own distrust and paranoia.


I applaud O. Russell’s restraint and ambition in playing with character conventions as it keeps this film astray from obvious conventions that could never be outdone. DiMaso’s demented behavior and manipulation doesn’t make him unlikable but his lack of class and charm does, yet he remains surprisingly fascinating. If I were to say any character deserved true sympathy and loyalty, those honors would have to go to Mayor Carmine Polito who’s given a gentle touch of soul thanks to an impressive turn by Jeremy Renner. The repercussions for misbehavior aren’t rewarded in the way to be commonly expected, even when classic mafia elements show up towards the conclusion. As Rosalyn is taken out of her vulnerable surroundings, there is enthrallment in the disastrous possibilities that await her every bad judgement. The momentum becomes pulsating as the mutual distrust of everyone builds through pure impulsiveness. The neurotic sensibilities never seem to hide the sad loneliness peeking through the desperate toughness that keeps these people from falling apart. American Hustle is an admirable portrait of caricatures reflecting authenticity and hypnotic delusion.

The Author

Sean McClannahan

Sean McClannahan

Sean McClannahan is a freelance film journalist and is the founder of Movie Time And Beyond. His passion for movies and pop culture knows no limits.

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