Language : English | Running Time : 138 Minutes | Director : David O. Russell
Two con artists, lovers – Irving Rosenfeld(Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser(Amy Adams), when finally coming to terms about what they feel and what has been imposed on them have a moment together in a room and Sydney Prosser says “We’ve got to get one over all these guys”. For a caper movie, there’s nothing better than having a con being pulled with exquisite brilliance after such a proclamation. If pulled in a style that’s closely associated with Martin Scorsese, it only ends up becoming an exciting experience. The third film in what I call the reincarnation of David O.Russell, American Hustle has a cast which is a pot-pourri of actors from his two brilliant previous films – The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook and a story loosely based on the ABSCAM sting from the late 70s.
The first scene of the film has Irving fastidiously setting his toupee. He is not a man to care about his appearance except when it comes to the hair that sits on top of his head. For him, it is just another part of him, it isn’t something that defines him like his genius or passion do. He is a con artist and like any good artist, he knows where his best lies. We are drawn to him, the way he moves and talks not because he comes from some exotic place that we aren’t used to but because, as Sydney says in a voice-over, “he had this confidence that drew me to him”. It is that assured confidence that is so central to any screwball comedy-drama that draws us to him. In many a way Irving is a character that resembles many of Robert De Niro‘s characters with Martin Scorsese and Christian Bale plays the character with the same remarkable brilliance that Robert De Niro brought to the table. We get to know the two leads and their history through well positioned voice-overs, with the two telling us about each other. Like lovers talking about each other, the two characters feed us about the other. The movie essentially becomes a love story and not just a caper film because of these two characters.
The fast and dirty script written by David O.Russell and Eric Warren Singer gives the art of conning an excellent touch and has dialogues that are simply fun and roaring. The story revolves around the two con artists being used by the FBI to capture corrupt politicians and big fish in the pond. ABSCAM(short for Arab Scam) was a sting operation where a rich, investing “Sheikh” was placed as bait in front of powerful individuals who were then caught on tape for abetting illegal deeds by accepting bribes. The operation here involves bagging much loved Mayor Carmine Polito(Jeremy Renner) and the con is to be pulled by our two leads – Irving and Sydney a.k.a Lady Edith Greensly, who in turn are forced to participate by the ambitious FBI agent, Richard DiMaso(Bradley Cooper). The entire operation is told to us through the eyes of Irving and Sydney, the voice-overs giving us details that the screen doesn’t fill itself with. The movie is a breeze once it establishes all the characters, with their back stories.
Christian Bale has always been an actor with great persona and talent and here he plays a character which is so unlike anything he has played before. Irving is wholly corrigible and it has allowed Christian Bale to establish a warmth that is otherwise very hard to notice in his roles. Irving being drawn to a woman who is as talented or probably more than himself and he wooing her is a wonderful set piece. Amy Adams has been growing into her shoes as America’s most reliable leading lady and after playing the calculating lady in The Master, she returns to play a sensual, intelligent woman. She plays an unpredictable woman and plays it so well that we want to clap and wolf whistle when she is on the top of her game. Jennifer Lawrence who plays Rosalyn has very little to do but her talent is clearly visible in the few scenes that she occupies. A brilliant performance that’s sadly gone little to unnoticed is Jeremy Renner’s. He is splendid, reliable and brilliant as the mayor who is filling his pockets to help the state of New Jersey. The other supporting cast play their parts wonderfully. Phil Herman as an attorney and Louis CK as Richie DiMaso’s superior are noteworthy. The ice-fishing story is a fine, quirky addition to the script. Robert De Niro’s uncredited appearance is another which is hoot-worthy. The scene where Michael Pena(Sheikh Abdullah) is introduced to Robert De Niro is the kind of screwball comedy that makes movies fun and entertaining.
David O. Russell has come closest to being the cinematic offspring of Martin Scorsese and American Hustle is the living proof for the statement. The script and then the treatment are reminders of Scorsese’s early New York films and Goodfellas. The way Christian Bale’s character is sketched is similar to the way one would expect Scorsese to direct Robert De Niro and along with the thematic sensibilities, the shot selection and style are resplendent with touches of Scorsese. This coupled with their taste in music makes it hard to not call David O. Russell as the closest we are going to get to another Scorsese.
American Hustle is pure screwball entertainment, one that is both a caper and a love story. The characters are a thrill and so is this fast script and in a year where there are two films of the Scorsese kind, this is the one that actually invokes the whole Scorsese persona. American Hustle is a wonderful film that delivers the goods. It isn’t the greatest film of the year or even David O. Russell’s most important work to date but it is a fun film which works on all fronts.