Some hustle for respect. Some hustle for love. Others hustle for truth. But we all hustle to survive. Riding on the back-to-back critical & commercial success of The Fighter & Silver Linings Playbook, director David O. Russell continues to revel at the top of his game with his latest feature, American Hustle. Boasting an extremely talented & impressive cast, there is simply no denying that this crime drama had all the ingredients & potential to become the best film of 2013 and even though its plot is very lively, entertaining & character-driven and delivers the goods it promised to quite a certain extent, the entire cinematic experience, for me, in the end still felt short of complete on the satisfaction level & was definitely missing something.
Taking a leaflet out of the FBI’s infamous ABSCAM operation during the late 1970s & early 1980s that shook the entire American nation, American Hustle tells the story of a brilliant con artist named Irvin Rosenfeld, who makes his living through deceiving people by acting as a middleman for loans & selling forged paintings. Assisting Irvin in his fraudulent scheme is his lover & equally cunning partner, Sydney Prosser, who assumes a British identity as “Edith Greenslay” to improve Irvin’s scams. But when their scheme is busted by federal agent, Richie Di Maso, both of them are forced to work for him in order to avoid jail time & are tasked to set up Carmine Polito, Mayor of Camden, New Jersey. Trouble begins when the dangerous mob enters the picture but Richie, who is too eager to make his mark in the field, continues to push Irvin & Sydney further into this dangerous venture and in the end, it all comes down to Irvin’s unstable wife, Rosalyn, who holds the thread that can change the result of the entire game.
David O. Russell is one of those directors whose number one priority while making a film isn’t the film’s plot or its progression but the intricate study of its characters. And here, it’s the characters only who have elevated this film way above the heights where its story could’ve taken it to. Written by Eric Warren Singer & revised by Russell himself, the screenplay is fabulous to look at; especially in the use of humour, the attention it has given to its characters & their developments arcs. Cinematography makes fluid & dynamic use of camera while creating the late 1970s environment & also invigorates other directors’ trademark shots. Costumes & make-up (Oh the hairstyles!) end up attracting a much bigger attention than expected & gives the film a discomforting but fitting style of the timeline it presents while also adding a new edge to its peculiar characters’ dimensions. Editing is nicely executed as a brimming energy waiting to explode is felt throughout its 140 minutes of runtime. And it also makes effective use of cleverly chosen tracks that add a little more validity to the film’s plot & timeline.
When it comes to casting, American Hustle boasts a cast that’s far more star-studded than what any other film of its year had to offer. The film brings David O. Russell together with Christian Bale & Amy Adams since The Fighter as well as Bradley Cooper & Jennifer Lawrence since Silver Linings Playbook into a single feature & everyone delivers with a smashing performance to make this film an acting powerhouse. I’ve never doubted Christian Bale’s dedication in getting the physicality of his characters right but that same high level of devotion isn’t present when it comes to capturing those characters’ emotionally. Still, Bale looks immensely convincing here as the con man Irvin Rosenfeld with the slouch posture, combover & huge tummy but in the end, it wasn’t him who was the best thing in the film. Bradley Cooper has been steadily rising as one of the most promising actors in Hollywood today & here he brilliantly portrays Richard “Richie” Di Maso; a rookie FBI agent too desperate for success. Jeremy Renner plays Carmine Polito; a good doer politician, whom Richie wants to implicate in his game plan. And we also have a small but stunning cameo by Robert De Niro as the notoriously violent Mafia overlord Victor Tellegio.
But the above mentioned actors, although very striking in their given roles, kind of pale in comparison to the dazzling performances put up by the ladies, this time. Amy Adams is one of the most versatile & respected actresses in films today and in this film, she stars as Sydney Prosser; Irvin’s partner & lover who assumes the British identity of “Lady Edith Greenslay” to add some authenticity to Irvin’s scams & who after getting busted is confused between the two men in her lives, other being Richie who falls for her. Adams’ performance is very strong & enthralling but overshadowing even her is the new tour-de-force in cinema today, Jennifer Lawrence. Fresh from her last year Oscar-winning performance in Silver Linings Playbook & who single-handedly propelled The Hunger Games sequel to a rousing success few months ago, this talented young actress plays her given character (which David O. Russell wrote specifically with her in mind) with remarkable finesse. Lawrence plays the supporting role of Rosalyn; the unstable wife of Irvin, who in the end turned out to be the catalyst in this game of manipulation & the show-stealing performance that Lawrence has delivered here is so spectacular that it might bag her another Oscar this upcoming season.
American Hustle was one of the most anticipated films of the year & even though it turned to be a very well made crime drama, I really doubt if it’s a great one. There are hilarious moments in the film for sure & its eccentric characters are its biggest strength but as far as the main plot is concerned, American Hustle fails to deliver on that front. Just like David O. Russell’s previous two films, it had the potential to become something truly great but isn’t due to the director’s intent on playing it safe rather than going out with all the bold risks & play with the chances of failure. On an overall scale, American Hustle may not have turned out to be the film we wanted to see due to the script’s inconsistencies & minor flaws, but thanks to David O. Russell’s kinetic direction, its finely developed characters, superb use of sly humour & its star-studded cast’s exuberant performances, it is nonetheless an incredibly entertaining motion picture that lives up to most of its expectations, if not all, and is fine enough to satisfy majority of its viewers. Worth a watch? Absolutely. Best film of the year? Nope.