The film “American Hustle” by director, David O. Russell, is a dark, hyper real, screwball comedy, caper film with fever pitch pacing. Stylistic flourishes from “The Sting”, “His Girl Friday” and “Goodfellas” and a white hot cast give the film the energy that should power it to several Oscar nominations.
Russell’s fictionalized account of the ABSCAM scandal, the F.B.I. sting operation that ensnared several congressman and a US Senator in the New York, New Jersey area in the late ’70s crackles with larger than life characters speaking great dialogue and engaging in morally questionable activity. Greedy, power mad government officials on the take, con men and grifters who know the angles, and wisecracking chicks who know the score and who all have extreme taste in hairstyles and wardrobe, contribute to making this one of the best movie going experiences of recent times. In an era that is obsessed with appearance, the costuming and styling in the film deserves special mention.
“American Hustle” is great story telling and played by an ensemble of stars that is quickly forming a familiar Russell troupe.
Russell is on a winning streak, his two previous films; “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook” deservedly made many of the year-ending top ten lists when they were released, and earned Oscars for Christian Bale and Hollywood’s hottest star, Jennifer Lawrence.
Bale won in support of Mark Wahlberg while playing an in and out of jail, washed-up, punch-drunk, crackhead ex-fighter who has hung ’em up to help his kid brother become the champ that he could never be. And Lawrence lit screens up, last year, as a mentally challenged dance contestant with a poor emotional filter, and went on to sweep the award season’s female lead trophies while cementing her position as the showbiz breakout of the past two years.
Bradley Cooper was also nominated in Oscar’s Best Actor category for playing opposite Lawrence and Amy Adams (who seems to turn up in just about everything good these days) was nominated for a supporting role in “The Fighter”. Cooper and Adams are also members of the fine ‘Hustle’ cast. And Jeremy Renner – a new addition to the Russell company – takes a turn as a naive and generous pol who falls prey to government overreach.
The cinematic lineage of “American Hustle” can be traced to “His Girl Friday”, “The Sting”, “Goodfellas” and other movies where fast talking film flam men and women are out to get more. Many of these films are set in economic periods of hard times where the central characters carve a slice of the pie any way they can and this one is no different. The end of the single term Carter administration that served as a placeholder between the Nixon and Reagan eras, and provides the backdrop for the movie was one of high unemployment, rampant inflation and a warning sign of the havoc that the voodoo economics of trickle down was about to cause.
Christian Bale shines as a low level grifter, with a heart of gold, who’s hard luck tale begins as the son of a glazier who breaks windows to help his father make his numbers. Lawrence provides manic comic relief as a stay-at-home mom who uses every trick in the book to hold on to Bale. Cooper is an F.B.I. agent with dreams of grandeur that lead to a tragic ending. And Adams steals the movie as Bale’s partner in crime and love and the shill who enflames Cooper’s passion for advancement.
This overly ambitious group of strivers with “little town blues”, is not satisfied with the state of things and not patient enough to wait their turn so they game anyone and everyone. Anyone who stands in their way is a potential mark, and the plot is hilariously driven by game playing, manipulation and lying.
In this America everyone is hustling; the Rudy Giuliani like US Attorney, the bologna king from Long Island, the pyromaniac homemaker, the mid level F.B.I. agent who lives with his mother, the mayor with big dreams to revitalize his state, the dry cleaner with the banking schemes and the small town stripper looking for a way up and out. In an era when economic inequality is the underlying issue of the day, Russell’s film holds a mirror up to our times and and reveals the darker side of the American dream. It is a must see.