In American Hustle, director David O. Russell’s latest exercise in confrontation, a fine cast works its way through the hideous styles and fashions of the 1970s to deliver a steady stream of diverting titillation.
Russell and co-writer Eric Singer have taken a true story and given it some engaging plot twists, while lovingly exaggerating every character and situation. And if Singer and Russell had not taken such liberties, the movie would not be nearly as much fun.
Christian Bale plays beefy Irving Rosenfeld, a small-time Bronx grifter in 1978 who takes great care with his mock-beaver comb-over. He has his hand in various schemes, mostly to support his unstable wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).
Irving stumbles into swindling as well as a personal partnership with the highly duplicitous Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a matchup that ends with a bust by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper).
Before long, Irving and soul mate Sydney conspire with DiMasio to bring down Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), the mayor of Camden, N.J. The movie expands the investigation long enough to ensnare members of Congress through the notorious Abscam scandal.
None of this sounds much out of the ordinary, but Russell orchestrates his scenes for maximum discomfort, raising overall ire with his trademark collisions.
All of these combustible scenes benefit greatly from the army of behind-the-scenes technicians who adorn Adams and Lawrence in eye-catching, cleavage-accentuating costumes, while sprucing up the men’s hairstyles for constant amusement, if not amazement.
Russell’s work has consistently shown a fondness for supplying his actors with dialogue and then pairing them off and letting them rip at each other, sometimes joining in himself. Obviously, this fractious method has caused some problems over the years, but in films like American Hustle, it can bring needed energy to mundane scenes.
For instance, at one point, Russell lets Oscar winner Lawrence loose for no reason. She screams, shakes, and then shimmies across the room, leaving the viewer fearing she will explode.
Her actions may not help further define her character, but, like many directorial touches, it adds a telling spice to Russell’s tangy confection.
Rated R, 138 minutes.