Chronicling the mostly true events of the FBI ‘ABSCAM’ operation of the late 1970s, two con artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) are forced by FBI agent Richie (Bradley Cooper) to help set up a sting operation targeting corrupt members of the US Congress. But it rapidly becomes apparent that there is more than one con going on here, as well as a dangerous love-triangle which threatens to ruin the whole operation.
American Hustle represents the third part of David O. Russell’s disconnected, award-guzzling trilogy which features familiar faces from The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook. Whilst the latter may still represent the pinnacle of the three, this is undoubtedly Russell’s most stylish and ambitious film to date. He handles the period extremely well; 1970s New York is sleazy, glamorous and sometimes very funny indeed. The clothes, hair pieces and music play as much a part as the actors in evoking the 70s groove.
Billed as a ‘screwball comedy’ by many publications, it has its funny moments but perhaps not as many as one would like. But when the laughs do come, they’re big: from office politics in the FBI to the ethnicity of police informants, this cast has never been funnier. And what a cast it is.
Every character has their moment; the paranoid Bale and manipulative Adams form a formidable double act early on, but we are also treated to excellent turns from Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as an overeager FBI agent and Bale’s deranged ex-wife respectively. Jeremy Renner demonstrates great versatility as the mayor of New Jersey and some brilliant cameos are also in store.
Russell’s ambition sometimes lets the plot down. The simple beauty of Silver Linings and The Fighter seemed miles and miles away as the plot weaves in and out of various crimes and cons, eventually reaching a satisfying conclusion but with a few definite bumps along the way. This is also manifested in a heavy running time of 138 minutes, though it should be noted that it gains momentum as it goes on. It’s definitely helped along by a fantastic soundtrack which includes some Temptations and one of the best Bond themes of all time.
Not as involving as Silver Linings or as exhilarating as The Fighter, it’s still a very entertaining film showing bizarre things happening to ordinary people and which features one of the best ensemble casts in recent memory.