An entertaining 70s crime caper starring Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper
Boasting one of the most dazzling, awards-friendly casts in recent memory, American Hustle finds writer-director David O Russell in the mood for flamboyantly filmed, often hilarious hi-jinks. His seventh film is a sexy, rollicking caper set in the late 70s which expertly infuses its criminality with both class and character, the latter delivered via a thick vein of askew humour. In American Hustle the women are bold and beautiful, while the men sport extraordinary hair (and not in a good way).
Christian Bale plays Irving, a balding, pot-bellied crook who's fallen head-over-heels for Amy Adams' glamorous Sydney, to the chagrin of his young, mentally wobbly wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). Irving and Sydney are con-artists, cheerfully grifting until Bradley Cooper's FBI agent Richie catches them in the act and forcefully recruits them to hook four larger targets. Their first 'mark' is New Jersey mayor Carmine (Jeremy Renner), an earnest official and family man eager to restore Atlantic City to its former glory any-which-way. With Carmine's unknowing assistance they're able to entrap other government officials and eventually members of the Mafia (enter Robert De Niro in a memorable cameo role).
American Hustle is loosely based on a true story and opens with the cheekily equivocal words, 'Some of this actually happened', declaring from the outset that it's a film which doesn't take itself too seriously. A confident Russell impeccably balances Goodfellas-style storytelling (an elegant recounting of a life of crime) with finessed farce, and also shows his love for 70s fashion, be it humorously dated or timeless.
The men are great here, but the women are sublime: Adams is the movie's heart and soul, gritting her teeth and baring her chest, and Lawrence is a hoot. Whether American Hustle has the legs to be an American classic remains to be seen but, right now, this is about as entertaining as cinema gets.