The movie is based on the Abscam FBI sting which took place over the late ’70s and early ’80s. To get out of a confidence scam indictment, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) set up a deal with agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to help him convict other con artists. The scam escalates quickly. Though they initially go after small-time con artists, the objective soon becomes entrapping local politicians and, eventually, organized crime heads with an Arab sheik (Michael Peña) that doesn’t exist.
American Hustle is, more than anything else, magnificently, outrageously funny. As the sting grows more complicated and DiMaso gets more out of control, an absurd tension mounts in each audience member. There’s no telling when, how often or how hard, but you will laugh and something in this movie.
The hilarity is equal parts writing and acting. Original writer Eric Warren Singer’s script was one of Hollywood’s 10 best that weren’t produced in 2010, and director David O. Russell added a great shine when he took the project. The two share writing credit.
American Hustle’s all-star cast performs like one. Bale, Cooper and Jeremy Renner have great fun in their roles. Adams gives her subtlest, nastiest, sexiest performance to date. Jennifer Lawrence takes her oddball character to dimensions only she can. It seems like every year she does even more to separate herself from the rest of Hollywood.
The movie backs itself up with rich identity themes, which are tacked onto characters’ hair of all things. The opening sequence is three minutes of silence as Rosenberg applies a sloppy comb-over, which is promptly removed. He and Prosser introduce themselves and each other as people who become what they need to in order to survive, and spend much of that introductory sequence dealing with clothing and appearances.
Make-up and costume becomes both a running gag and a way to express the movie’s themes. American Hustle is constantly talking about the disguises we wear, and it backs that up by having its actors in the most elaborate disguises they’ve worn in a long time.
Oscar season is usually boring and filled with pretentious, calculated efforts, but American Hustle starts 2014’s off with a very funny bang. It deserves at least best actress for Adams and best costuming, and isn’t unworthy for best picture.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and a senior staff writer for the NT Daily. There need to be more JFK assassination exhibits that are on the first few floors of buildings, instead of up high where he was shot from. For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for. Keep reading, the data-dump isn’t over yet.