American Hustle Review

Posted: December 22, 2013 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

AMERICAN-HUSTLE-Poster-620x918Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

It’s always exciting when great directors team with great casts for crime films, but also a tad nerve racking. In the past few years, several films which featured amazing talent both behind and in front of the camera received more harsh reviews than they deserved simply because they weren’t masterpieces. Such are the standards of the crime film. Ridley Scott’s American Gangster and Michael Mann’s Public Enemies are probably the best examples of this, and I’d also argue Scott’s 2013 effort The Counsellor fits the bill as well. Still, I had a confidence that David O. Russell’s American Hustle would transcend the aforementioned films, in part because of the great promotional material. More importantly, Russell has been on quite the hot streak with The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook and I hoped he could continue that with this film. So is American Hustle another Russell success, or does it cool his streak?

The film opens uniquely with text reading that, “Some of this is based on a true story.” From there, we go to 1978 New Jersey where we meet Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a conman who makes a living through investment scams and selling forged art. He meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) at a party and the two quickly fall in love. Irving trusts her, enough to bring her into his life of crime, which proves fruitful as the two find more success as partners than they did alone. However their lives are disrupted when the pair is arrested by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). Richie has higher profile targets and instead makes them a deal; if they can use their conning skills to expose corruption among various politicians, they can go free. The two reluctantly agree and target Camden, New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). Things begin spiraling out of control as the various personalities collide, particularly when Irving’s wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) becomes involved in the plan.

The operation which Richie DiMaso pushes in the film was in fact I real operation under the codename Abscam. Essentially, Abscam was an operation designed to root out political corruption and what the film depicts of the operation is interesting. That said, I don’t think Russell is particularly interested in exploring the intricacies of the operation and instead uses the scenario to explore the various characters. Some might have preferred a more accurate depiction of Abscam, but I don’t mind, especially since the characters here are very interesting. As individual personalities, all work well, but the true pleasure comes from watching their relationships with each other develop throughout the film, as well as seeing how characters reveal or sometimes change aspects of others. These dynamics only become more fascinating to watch as the film progresses and the relationships become more intertwined. The characters resemble a dysfunctional family, and in that respect the film shares a kinship with Russell’s The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook.

Given that Russell’s focus is on the characters, it’s a good thing he has a top notch cast performing at their absolute best. The four leads especially give really excellent performances. Bale’s work as the overweight Irving Rosenberg has received considerable praise and it’s easy to see why. His physical transformation is impressive, but what’s truly great is the way Bale embodies the confidence of Irving, but also the sadness. He also delivers a lot of strong scenes and just gives a really engaging and memorable performance. Jennifer Lawrence has received equal praise as Irving’s wife, Rosalyn. As Rosalyn, Lawrence is attention seeking, irresponsible, ignorant, and manipulative, but also an emotional person who feels real. It’s a juicy part and Lawrence makes the most of it, dominating every scene she’s in. Amy Adams’ and Bradley Cooper’s performances haven’t been as thoroughly praised, but both are great as well. Adams’ Sydney is just as smart as Irving, but she doesn’t have his confidence. This leads to her being more emotionally extreme. This includes being very vulnerable at points, and very ruthless at others, often both in the same scene. It’s a role which requires a lot of range as well as a solid line running through, which Adams completely delivers. Bradley Cooper brings a lot of manic energy to Richie DiMaso, and I like how Cooper slowly reveals more pathetic layers to the character. The supporting cast also does good work. Most notable is Jeremy Renner as the well-intentioned but somewhat ignorant Mayor Carmine Polito. He makes the guy really likable and it’s also nice to see Renner in a role where he doesn’t need to be so intense. Louis C.K. also has a fun role here and Russell fills out even the smallest roles with recognizable faces like Michael Pena and Anthony Zerbe. A favourite actor of mine also makes a fun and effective cameo. Bottom line, the cast is fantastic and works best when the actors are playing off each other.

Stylistically, American Hustle is very much in line with Russell’s recent work. Russell brings a lot of rapid energy to the film but never loses his sense of control. The cinematography has a hand-held aesthetic to it but Russell still manages to get a lot of very well-choreographed and graceful shots. The soundtrack Russell has assembled is also top notch. Most of the music is right from the 1970s, with an emphasis towards rock. The use of “Live and Let Die”, “A Horse with No Name”, and the songs from the Electric Light Orchestra work especially well, but the whole soundtrack helps constantly give the film a high energy. The production value is also solid, with the costumes and art direction capturing the 1970s without overpowering the movie. Russell’s talent for blending drama and comedy is also at the forefront of American Hustle as the film effortlessly captures both and frequently weaves between the two. As entertaining as it is, the film also manages to ponder some major themes, particularly the nature of the truth and what motivates people.

Some have criticized American Hustle for being messy and I see where they’re coming from. Truth be told, this probably could have been tighter and more focused. None the less, I’m highly impressed with the end result. This is a very engaging film which gets better and better the longer it goes. The soundtrack is excellent, the production values on point, the cast phenomenal, and the whole film is very entertaining and thought provoking. For all that, I can handle a bit of mess. David O. Russell’s hot streak continues.


  1. I agree! The soundtrack, especially, added to the film as a whole. I loved the 70s feel to it. :)

  2. reel411 says:

    hmmm yeah i was one of those people who thought it was messy. i think it focuses on laughs and style more than substance but it is entertaining to watch though. but that’s about it to me.

  3. Andrea Simpson Myllymaki says:

    We will go and see this one tomorrow night. Thanks for the review. I always love to check with you, first…not that a bad review would stop me, from gping, but none the less..Thanks, Dan.

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