While immediate comparisons come to mind of the brilliant crime thrillers from Martin Scorsese and Brian de Palma – especially Carlito’s Way – the pervasive playfulness within American Hustle undercuts O. Russell’s clear emulative intentions and discourages caring about any of the characters, rendering them void of truth in a fairly truthful story. By the end you’re not necessarily pleased at any plot outcome; rather you’ll more so be impressed with the clever final act and the stellar performances from the entire cast.
Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is a smart con man who knows his limits – safe in the confines of a rotating clothesline in one of his many dry cleaners with business partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). Opportunistic FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) busts them when Prosser gets too comfortable on one con and with increasing ambition and arrogance, he attempts to use Rosenfeld and Prosser’s conning skills to help arrest a loyally principled mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), various members of congress and desperately wanted gangsters in return for their immunity. Differing ambitions between the characters and their passion for achieving them fuels much of the drama and plot development, which makes for entertaining viewing as the levels of power and reluctancy change throughout.
It’s a well-conceived film from O. Russell that falters in its pacing and unclear character relationships; scenes, narrative plot points and character relationships move too frenetically and remain unexplored. This is most notable with DiMaso’s one dimensional character whose attraction to Prosser feels false from the beginning. Why does he neglect his fiancé, why does he still live with his mother, how is he so seemingly low on the FBI ladder yet allowed to run a humongous operation? This lack of clarification leads to thin characters where Rosenfeld’s trophy wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) is the only one you’d be encouraged to root for, even though she is sadly rendered insignificant to the story despite offers appreciative narrative morality to the actions in this world.
Although containing deep insights into the disguises we adopt to mask our inadequacies, many hilarious moments – largely from deserving Golden Globe winner Lawrence – and a sublime costume department, this fun but forgettable ride ultimately underwhelms.