If you ask any fan of film to name a few of the best movies involving con artists, the first few that will be mentioned are almost certain to include The Sting, House of Games, Catch Me If You Can, and a few others. The first two are the best of the genre. Until now. American Hustle, a film from David O. Russell is definitely a contender to be among the best movies involving a con or cons, ever.
Based somewhat loosely on the ABSCAM sting operation of the 1970s, it is the story of “Irving” (Christian Bale), his wife “Rosalyn” (Jennifer Lawrence), the woman who becomes his business partner, “Sydney” (Amy Adams) and the FBI agent who comes into their lives. That is “Special Agent Richie DiMaso” (Bradley Cooper) and he has a plan.
Agent DiMaso caught Irving and Sydney in a scam and could have just put them in jail. Instead he intends to use them as a springboard to catch higher level crooks. Mobsters, politicians, or whoever, all that matters is that Richie make a big splash in the media with a major bust, to boost his career. Considering that he lives at home and curls his own perm, it is evidently a career in need of help.
Richie blackmails Irving and Sydney who reluctantly agree to go along with the plan. They target “Carmine Polito” (Jeremy Renner) who is the mayor of a town in New Jersey, who wants to find investors to bring in the money needed to reopen the casinos that lie empty and abandoned. Carmine insists that Rosalyn accompany Irving to their business/social events and she’s thrust into a difficult situation. Suddenly there are high level mobsters involved and who is going to come out on top will remain in doubt until the very end.
Calling David O. Russell a genius is somewhat of an understatement. This is a story he co-authored with Eric Singer, a film he directed, and it features incredible performances from an extraordinarily talented cast. Jennifer Lawrence does not have much screen time with Bradley Cooper, but the sparks that sizzled in last year’s Silver Linings Playbook are there, but in a different form. The difference makes them no less satisfying in any way. Christian Bale has a way of altering his physicality to make his acting so much more compelling and realistic. He gained weight for this role and the humor found in his “elaborate combover” is delicious. Amy Adams was at her absolute best in this role, creating a character with the chameleon-like abilities that real-life con artists have to fool others into thinking they are something they are not. Four superb performances added to the outstanding writing and direction adds up to a film of epic proportions. I can’t wait to see it again.