David O. Russell returns from last year’s huge success, Silver Linings Playbook, with what seems to be another critical success complete with an all-star cast. With Silver Linings, Russell impressed and engaged audiences with his focus on the characters themselves and he repeats that strategy in American Hustle. I found myself completely engaged with characters that might seem over-the-top to some but were hilarious and endearing to me. In fact, American Hustle pretty much screams of flamboyancy in the costumes, set design, and character’s personalities but that is what seems to make it work. It is the semi-historical recounting of the ABSCAM scandal that occurred in the late 70’s and early 80’s in which a “wealthy Sheik” was used as a pawn to get politicians to accept bribes. Russell once again pulls us in with the perfect blend of comedy and drama and an assortment of vibrant characters who are all hustlers in some form or another.
Christian Bale’s con man character, Irving Rosenfield, states that “The world isn’t black and white. It’s a whole lot of grey”. That seems to be a running theme of the film. As the story progresses, the idea of who is the bad guy or who is the good guy gets more and more muddled. Honestly, it gets a little confusing with who is conning who and more than once I had to think about where it all was supposed to be going. Normally this would be disorienting while trying to watch a movie but it actually kind of fits for American Hustle because the world is a bunch of grey. Sometimes there aren’t concrete bad guys or good guys, especially in real life. Most of the time we are all just people trying to survive. This unique focus on the characters is a pleasant point of view and what really elevates this above your typical ol’ crime drama.
This was a hilarious and engaging script written by Russell and Eric Singer but it couldn’t have been brought to life without the amazing performances put on by Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner. This was a top notch cast that Russell has worked with before and it really shows. They all totally absorb their characters. Bale and Adams seemed to be the front runners and although Lawrence definitely had a smaller part than what I expected, she owned every scene she was in with her character’s insanity and vulnerability (It’s always fun seeing J-Law as a crazy person). Cooper impresses me once again with his role of a goofy and overexcited FBI agent who forces Bale and Adams to help him ensnare politicians and members of the mafia who commit white collar crime. The thing about all of these characters is that none of them are necessarily good or likable but we still feel for them and are captivated by them.
After Silver Linings, one might not think that a crime drama would be a good fit for director David O. Russell. However, he certainly surprised me with how well he made it work. In fact, Russell’s certain spin on things is exactly what makes American Hustle stand out. From the script, to the outfits, to the cinematography, to the acting, everything seems to weave together perfectly. American Hustle is hilarious but has a premise that will hit you hard. This premise suggests that maybe the American Dream isn’t so black and white. Maybe the American Dream isn’t about being a good person that does only good things, but instead we are all just hustlers that hustle in different ways. In the words of Lawrence’s Rosalyn Rosenfield “we are all just an accumulation of all the messed up choices we’ve made” (or something along the lines of that, it’s been a whole 24 hours since I’ve seen the film) and in the end, we do what we have to in order to survive. All in all, Russell’s American Hustle isn’t just a crime drama depicting the ABSCAM scandal, but is instead what seems to be a variety of character studies and after all, characters are what Russell is really good at.