The beginning title of American Hustle states that “some of this actually happened” meaning not a lot of it did not. The title hustles the audience, lets it know that this going to be a shell game and if they don’t pay close attention that they will be conned too. Director David O. Russell wants the audience to think that it's two steps forward when it is really two steps back. And the actors (Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Lawrence) play the confidence game to perfection.
Bradley Cooper as FBI agent Richie DiMaso tries to control the hustle, tries to turn the tricks to a better good by starting off with small time officials on the take and moving up to senators and congressmen. Here the truth is never deeper than the con. The hustle is life and life can’t be controlled. The smart con man knows when to step out of the way. And never tell the truth because that’s when disaster happens.
Director David O. Russell loosely uses the Abscam scandal of the 1970’s which convicted 19 politicians as a frame for his own tale of justice gone wrong. It’s the characters and not the sting that interest him most. Christian Bale as Irving is ostensibly the hero because he is the most self-aware. Content to be small time charlatan that deals with fleecing desperate businessmen with false investments and black market art forgeries, Irving is pitched between suffering his wife’s indignities because she can tell a better lie in a fight (Jennifer Lawrence in full big hair, fashion and housewife of Jersey mode) and his lover and partner in crime (Amy Adams affecting a British accent and wardrobing every wrap dress that displays her cleavage the best). Add DiMaso Abscam obsession and the danger adverse Irving can’t help to create another con that releases the quiet desperation he feels. Recreation helps preserve the identity he really wants.
David O. Russell choppy and quirky directing style is always delivering off kilter plot beats that keeps American Hustle from becoming a Goodfellas clone. Scorsese’s latest Wolf of Wall Street tries to do the same thing, but never generates the casual coherence Russell creates. All the bad male fashion and bra fee gowns and blouses, the big hair and makeup reinforce the idea of poseur style that is American Hustle’s driving beat and the 1970′s true heart.
American Hustle gets an A from me.