I love movies that run you through a series of emotions and aren't afraid to bring humor to thrilling drama. I love movies that seem like the roles were written for the people who ended up casted in them, a great combination of smart writing and stellar acting. I love movies who blur the lines between heroes and villains and have you completely invested in the story from start to finish. American Hustle does all of these things and does them in expert fashion. It's a terrific movie and is a wonderful coda for cinema in 2013. American Hustle is directed by David O. Russell of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook fame. It tells a tale (loosely based on a true story; as it says at the beginning of the film: "Some of this stuff actually happened.") of two low-level con artists loving life in New York in the late 1970's. Things are going great for Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his mistress Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) until they get pinched by Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper): an ambitious FBI agent looking to make a name for himself. DiMaso's grand plan is to use the couple to help take down a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner) desperately trying to revitalize Atlantic City. The three quickly find themselves over their heads and struggling to keep control of the unraveling events, the least of which isn't helped by Irving's estranged wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who gets roped into the plot and becomes its biggest wild card.
The first thing that has to be said about American Hustle is that Russell and co-writer Eric Singer do a wonderful job at developing these characters. All of the principal characters are firmly anti-heroic, yet you find yourself feeling a great amount of sympathy for them throughout the film. A great example of this comes in the portrayal of Richie DiMaso: a guy that is meant to come off as an asshole, yet there is a scene in the movie that explains in about 2 minutes his motivations and immediately changes how you feel about him, even if just for a brief period of time. The dynamic between Rosenfeld, his mistress, and his wife, which doesn't even really get delved into until the latter half of the movie, is pulled off in such an impressive manner by the actors involved. It's quite ironic that the most noble character (relatively speaking) in the movie, Renner, is the one you end up feeling the least amount of desire to see succeed. Lawrence in particular deserves special mention for the job she did. Her ability as an actress has never been questioned, and it's a cliché to say something along the lines of "this role is like you've never seen Jennifer Lawrence before!", but there is truth to that sentiment here as she delivers in a role as complex as she has ever had to play (note: I do say this having not seen Silver Linings Playbook, which I have heard she is equally excellent in).
Much needs to be said also about the intangibles in the film, which is another area where Russell excels. The cinematography is dynamic and adds so much to the source material. Equally great is the soundtrack selection which seems perfectly tailored to the film. It felt very Tarantino-esque. I love when directors pay so much attention to the little things, and seeing American Hustle makes me want to run out immediately and watch Russell's other directorial endeavors. There are also a couple of really fun cameos here that I won't spoil, Richie DiMaso's boss at the bureau especially (don't cheat by looking on IMDb!), that were unexpected and actually added a lot to the movie. My only real criticism of the movie is the fact that is was a slow starter. It was a necessary evil to really give the exposition needed to understand the relationship between Bale and Adams' characters, but it drags on a bit especially when compared to the breakneck pace of the latter two-thirds of the film.
All in all, American Hustle was just fantastic. Whether or not you are a fan of Russell's other films, it's just such a well-done movie that you owe it to yourself not to miss it.
[easyreview title= "Review of American Hustle" cat1title="Brad's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]