A con man, Irving Rosenfeld, along with his seductive partner Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso, who pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.
Running Time: 2hrs 18min
MPAA Rating: R
by Joe Neumaier
New York Daily News
There’s a great fever-dream quality to David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” that instantly reels you in.
This terrific fact-fiction mashup revolves around the late 1970s-early 1980s Abscam scandal, in which FBI agents and con artists joined together to catch pols taking illegal cash. The movie itself works like a great shell game. No matter how closely you watch, “American Hustle” surprises you.
It turns out that comb-overs, cleavage, cocaine and kookiness are an unbeatable combo.
Christian Bale wears the first of those as Irving Rosenfeld, a balding, paunchy Long Island shyster whose two-bit schemes involve phony bank loans and selling forged artwork. Irving officially runs a string of dry-cleaning shops, but he sees himself as more than that.
Into his life walks Sydney (Amy Adams), a creature of reinvention. An ex-stripper and current striver, she sees Irving as access to the good life. Using a fake English accent and calling herself “Lady Edith,” she becomes a classy gal the suckers can trust. Smart but bloated Irving is in awe of her.
Sydney and Irving slip up and are forced into a partnership with rogue FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). After nabbing Irving and Sydney, go-getter Richie cuts a deal with the duo to help him bag white-collar criminals.
Then the curveballs start. First they inadvertently find congressmen ready to take money under the table, as well as a well-meaning New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner) who needs cash to set up casinos and create jobs. There’s even a dangerous Florida mobster (Robert De Niro) who smells the moolah.
When Irving’s unhinged wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence)gets suspicious of her husband’s attention to Sydney, she wants in, too. Rosalyn is to die for, but she could, drunkenly flirting with gangsters during a sting operation, get someone killed.
“American Hustle” uses Abscam (short for “Arab scam”), a Me Decade footnote, to riff on our need to reinvent ourselves. Russell and Eric Singer’s witty, silky screenplay spins multiple plates at once.
Every cast member gets a chance to shine. And the cast is familiar, with plenty of vets from Russell’s previous films (“The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook”).
Bale — that freak of acting nature who can become anyone at a moment’s notice — is sad, funny and riveting. Adams is simultaneously kittenish and craven. Cooper is terrific as a goofball dying to be taken seriously, while lusting after Adams’ female trickster.
Lawrence, in just a few scenes, captures the frowsy, frisky era’s slovenly undercurrent. Renner, a newcomer to Russell’s movies, adds a crucial layer of slightly crooked conscience.
In a movie about wild cards, it would be easy to let the visuals spin out of control. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren, however, keeps the handheld camerawork fluid, not frantic. The movie overall never winks at its gaudy moment in time. Russell never opens the door for an easy joke or a lazy reference.
The intoxicating parade of losers thinking they’re winners, set to a hot soundtrack, puts “American Hustle” in the company of “Goodfellas” and “Boogie Nights.” But this one is absolutely its own creation.