Generally speaking, the average film of late is too long. Once a movie passes that one twenty mark, audiences fidget. In some cases, if audience members know in advance how long a film is going to be, they may even bulk at the idea of going in the first place. American Hustle passes that two hour line, yet it moves so fast with a style that’s so dazzling, time flies.
The film begins with the title ‘Some of This Actually Happened.’ What it’s referring to is the ABSCAM sting operation run by the FBI during the late seventies. This was an investigation and what later lead to the conviction of a U.S. senator. American Hustle isn’t the real life story of that operation, but it does incorporate the account into its fictional plot. The amazing thing is, the whole affair revolving around pretend Arab sheiks, con men, bribes of public officials and the FBI is actually true.
“I learned how to survive when I was a kid,” the voice of Christina Bale tells us at the beginning. He’s a con man called Irving Rosenfeld who teams up with an equally conniving character, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams).
Rosenfeld’s act is to take money from over-eager clients who need money, fast. “I help guys who can’t get loans, get loans,” he explains. “I’m their last resort.” Only he doesn’t actually give them anything. He takes their fee but gives nothing back. “The more you say no, the more they want in on something,” he explains as we watch him scam another customer out of what’s left of their life savings.
Enter the FBI. Bradley Cooper plays agent Richie DiMasso, another over-eager character desperate to get what he wants, only in DiMasso’s case it’s not money he’s after, it’s the big operation; that one special case that will make his name and elevate him to much higher ranks and respectability within the bureau. He catches Rosenfeld and Prosser at their game, arrests them, then enlists them to help him catch the Mayor of Camden, New Jersey (Jeremy Renner) who DiMasso believes is crooked and needs catching.
As the story moves along, the operation escalates then snowballs. Eventually DiMasso will be over his curly 70’s perm with a sting now involving politicians, the mafia, fake Arab sheiks and an FBI boss who is suspicious of everything DiMasso wants to do.
American Hustle is so much fun, and at times so funny, that even though all of these characters are reprehensible in one way or another, you’re riveted. In fact, from the opening moment when we see Christian Bale, here way overweight, applying extra hair with paste to his bald spot then carefully applying his comb-over, you realize that everything about this guy is fake, and you’re hooked. You want to know what happens next, and it’s that feeling of always wanting to know what’s going to follow that keeps you going. We’re like one of Rosenfeld’s cons; the more we see, the more we want to know.
Director David O. Russell scored so well with Silver Linings Playbook over a year ago. With American Hustle he scores even higher. His camera moves at the dizzying speed of light, something reminiscent of Martin Scorsese with a style used in both Casino and Goodfellas where visual information is fed at full throttle while a voice-over explains what’s happening. Russell doesn’t exactly zoom in on things, he races forward as if he can’t wait to show us something we need to see.
With a great ensemble of professionals at the top of their game – Jennifer Lawrence as Rosenfeld’s wife, Rosalyn, is laugh-out-loud funny – American Hustle delivers. What a great way to end the year.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 136 Minutes Overall Rating: 9 (out of 10)