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American Hustle is set in the shady but flamboyantly dressed world of 1970s con artists, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), as they are drawn further and further out of their comfort zone by over ambitious and wild FBI Agent Richie DiMasso (Bradley Cooper) who is intent on using them to take down a selection of increasingly corrupt and powerful political figures.
Like many stories told recently in many different ways (see Killing Them Softly and Requiem for a Dream), this film continues the tradition of exploring the idea of the “American Dream”, the idea of what people will do to be successful, and the idea of what people are willing to sacrifice to get a taste of that sweet, sweet reward. Whereas the films mentioned above take a very serious and humourless tone to the subject, American Hustle flies by with great charm and wit, and some seriously strong performances to back it up.
Director David O. Russell is beginning to build himself a serious portfolio (Three Kings, The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook) and looks likely to be one of the Hollywood heavy weights of the future. On set he has a reputation for letting the actors freestyle with the dialogue and concentrates more on the characters than the plot. This has led to some outstanding performances with seven acting Oscar nominations for his last two films, including wins for both Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook and Christian Bale in The Fighter. And it is both Lawrence and Bale who look set for more glory with their performances in American Hustle, both eating up the screen whenever they appear. Lawrence in particular seems to be set for Hollywood superstardom (if she’s not there already) and completely dominates her role as the airheaded but subtly sharp wife of Christian Bale’s downbeat and uncomfortable Rosenfeld.
While the acting is brilliant across the board, the story itself sometimes lends itself to over indulgence and perhaps is not as clever as you are led to believe, but it whisks by at a perfect pace and doesn’t let the plot linger too long to allow itself close scrutiny, with the comedic interactions between Cooper’s overzealous FBI Agent and his superior masking the somewhat unrealistic plot mechanisms needed to propel the storyline. The charming and beautifully realised design of floral patterns, disco dancing and permed hairlines along with the sublime performances across the board makes this a shoe in for some Oscar nods this Spring, and while it has the style of direction of a Scorsese movie (and even a turn for Robert De Niro as a mobster) it further cements Russell’s position as heir to the throne of the skilfully crafted, well layered, and thoroughly enjoyable Hollywood movie.