American Hustle is just pure film entertainment. This isn’t the greatest movie in recent years, but it is one of the most flat out entertaining. And that’s such an underrated thing in modern film–how can a film be smart, adult, and entertaining all? Seems easier than it actually is. David O. Russell directs this film that is sort of about ABSCAM starring Christian Bale and Amy Adams as a couple of middling hustlers. Adams works in an English accent luring clients into their financial schemes that also include selling stolen or fake art under the guise of Bale’s legit dry-cleaning businesses. That is until Bradley Cooper comes walking in as a hard-charging and ambitious FBI agent not afraid to skate around the rules (and his boss, Louis C.K. as the straight man trying to tell an ice fishing story) and forces them to work for him. He wants the big con. He wants to make a name for himself and he’s going to do it through getting politicians, starting with Jeremy Renner as the mayor of Camden, to take bribes from a supposed Arab oil sheik. This nearly all goes up in flames when Robert DeNiro’s mob boss actually speaks Arabic, unlike the Mexican FBI agent they get to play the sheik because Arab, Mexican, what’s really the difference right? Also, Jennifer Lawrence is Bale’s angry, depressed wife left alone at home but who gets her shots in.
I could go on. Everyone is hustling everyone. Who will come out on top in the end? Who will sleep with who? Classic questions of cinema. Like in Argo, it’s pretty easy to have fun with 70s fashions. Adams’ dresses are insanely cut, Bradley Cooper’s perm is hilarious (the scene with him at his mother’s house wearing curlers is possibly the film’s funniest), Bale’s combover and weight are comic. But those easy laughs are, like watching someone fall down in a movie, funny because they are funny. It’s OK to laugh at that. If it was all the film had to offer, it would That 70s Show, but it of course delivers on its convoluted plot as well.
Along with her work in The Master (a problematic and failed film overall but with strong performances), with this film I’ve really changed my opinion on Amy Adams. There was several years where I couldn’t stand her because she overacted everything. She seemed like someone who properly belonged in a children’s movie. And then she was in The Muppets and I thought that was just perfect for her limited skills. But she has played both of these last roles with great subtlety and excellence.
Some have slighted this film, saying Russell has produced a Scorsese knockoff. That’s silly. Not only is it a lot funnier than a Scorsese film, but even though the influences are obvious, so what? Does a decent director have to come up with a totally unique style? And if a big cast with brash pop music and long tracking shots all belong to Scorsese and thus can’t be used elsewhere, then the future of film is in trouble. A silly critique. Good solid moviemaking.