Film Review: ‘American Hustle’ a charming semi-serious, semi-funny character study

Film Review: ‘American Hustle’ a charming semi-serious, semi-funny character study
From left: Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle.” Photo by Francois Duhamel

Despite its greater focus on cast performances instead of plot, which can be all too noticeable, at times, “American Hustle” is a charming semi-serious, semi-funny 1970s character study in which its strength outweighs what may or may not be its weakness.

Small-time hustler Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) discovers a way to change the life he’s been living when he and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) meet.

Together, as lovers and partners-in-crime, their business flourishes, only to cease when Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), an FBI agent, forces them to participate in a sting operation to arrest corrupt government officials.

One such person is Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), who is trying to revitalize his city through shady connections.

The glamorous world Irving and Sydney live in has a profound impact on DiMaso, providing him an opportunity to transform himself into the kind of person he wants to be.

In the meantime, Irving’s wild card of a wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), threatens to endanger the entire operation.

What could’ve easily just been a cynical, gritty crime drama turned out to be a demonstrative character study set amidst a fictionalized portrayal of the ABSCAM investigation (which the FBI began in the late 1970s so as to target corrupt public officials).

In David O. Russell’s hands, you can expect “American Hustle” to both entertain and enthrall, just like he did with “Silver Linings Playbook” last year.

While there clearly is a plot happening in the film (which derives inspiration from “The Sting”), I’ll admit that I found myself paying more attention to how the idea of hustling affects the characters’ relationships than the actual ABSCAM sting.

Nevertheless, it was still exciting to see the dynamic interplay between the cast members, which, in itself, created a story of its own to explore — one where the truth about reinvention and survival affects people on different levels.

The most obvious highlight of “American Hustle” is the ensemble cast, all of whom deliver masterful performances worth remembering as 2013 draws to a close.

This is very much a film in which the actors and actresses are the main attraction, and those we see here do not, in any shape or form, disappoint.

With his propensity for chameleon-like transformations, Christian Bale surprises and impresses us with his character of Irving, a role that calls for the kind of scrupulous charisma that only a con artist would possess.

He brings his A-game to the film, shedding those memorable years of playing Batman and stepping into the shoes of a swindler seeking to reinvent his life.

As the enchanting, seductive Sydney, Amy Adams hits all the right notes with elegant precision, navigating this dangerous world with a confidence designed to conceal her apprehension. She has this poise about her that immediately grabs your attention, and as you delve deeper into how she feels about her love for Irving, you’ll want to keep watching.

The term “idiosyncratic” best describes Bradley Cooper’s presence; his atypical G-Man mannerisms generated this reckless vibe that goes hand in hand with the backdrop of this film.

Even if you were to take away his distinctive hairstyle, you’d still see DiMaso as a forceful Fed whose attitude about life in general undergoes a drastic evolution.

Bigmouthed recklessness has a way of getting your attention when it’s Jennifer Lawrence.

It’s amazing how you can tell she’s unpleasant yet scared — just by looking at the animated spark in her eyes.

Jeremy Renner, always the capable man when you need him, succeeds in instilling a sympathetic quality in Carmine Polito (whose desire to create new jobs for the people he loves is on a par with the shady deals he’s had to make).

He definitely nailed the mayor’s passion for the public, due in no small part to the human face he gives to political corruption.

See “American Hustle” for what these fine cast members have to offer whilst living life in the 1970s, especially if you’re a fan of Russell’s recent work.

MPAA rating: R for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence.
Running time:  2 hours and 18 minutes
Playing:   In general release

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