A new year is here and director David O. Russell kicks things off admirably with American Hustle, a well acted if over-long crime dramedy that fizzes with multifaceted characters and revels in the unhinged swagger of the 1970s underworld.
Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are small time con artists, duping desperate losers out of cash and running a sideline in forged art. But ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMasso (Bradley Cooper) scuppers their business and coerces them into working with the government to catch politicians in the act of accepting bribes, thus securing headline-grabbing arrests and boosting his career prospects. Irving's young wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) is an additional distraction as the hustler attempts to avoid jail time; a disruptive presence who threatens to derail the undercover operation and land him in trouble with the Mafia.
Although American Hustle puts its characters through the wringer, each is also treated with affection and there's an underlying humour to even the darkest scenes that helps to bring out the lighter side. Bale is excellent as the pot-bellied, world-weary trickster, and Cooper conjures a frantic performance to embody a federal agent with questionable motivations. But it's the female characters that really shine, with Adams' sultry, manipulative and persistently two-faced role as Sydney acting as a pivotal point of intrigue, while Lawrence is enjoyably brash as the bored housewife who anchors Irving to reality.
Things do drag slightly as the final act and the ultimate hustle are heaved over the horizon, but the cast does a wonderful job of making every interaction entertaining and defined by the unexpected. American Hustle is a film you won't regret seeing, even if Russell's other recent releases left you cold.