American Hustle, dir. David O. Russell, wr. Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell, st. Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Robert De Niro
A cracking period caper that has Russell bringing together his alumni from The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook to form one unstoppable supercast, American Hustle boasts a near-Scorsesian approach to film-making and storytelling. Based on the ABSCAM FBI sting operation in 1978 in which federal agents employed grifter Melvin Weinberg to entrap various corrupt public officials with their hand in the cookie jar, the film liberally borrows from history, sidestepping vigorous truth-telling ("Some of this actually happened" reads the introductory title card) in favour of something more dramatically malleable. Bale, bepaunched and comb-overed leads the ensemble as Irving Rosenfeld, Hustle's fictional version of Weinberg, who finds himself backed into a corner when he's made by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper). DiMaso forces Irving, along with his literal partner-in-crime-cum-muse Sydney (Adams), into perpetrating an operation which DiMaso, ambitiously driven to the point of blindness, hopes will make his name. Ambition is, revealingly, the name of this elaborate game. All the characters - on both sides of the law - strive to aspire to something more. DiMaso's line manager's line manager Anthony Amado (Alessandro Nivola) repeatedly grants his increasingly outlandish requests to aid the operation out of a desire to bag a successful case, Mafia crime boss Victor Tellegio (an uncredited De Niro, brilliant for the first time in ages in a jewel of a role), we are told, preferred to leave his assassination victims in the street rather than buried in shallow graves as it sent more of a message to his opponents, and Rosalyn, Irving's volatile wife, just wants a contented life with her husband and young son. American Hustle arguably belongs to its women. Both Lawrence and Adams give performances of extraordinary range and dynamism. Adams' Sydney goes from manipulative con-fatale to woundedly distressed once things start to unravel, and in Rosalyn, Lawrence discovers a mobster's wife personna that rivals Lorraine Bracco's Karen Hill in Goodfellas, all glazed indifference one moment and addled firebrand the next. It's a delightfully batshit portrayal, and in many ways, the film's access point of endearing empathy. Credit too to Evelyne Noraz, whose makeup department employs subtle changes as the film progresses, gradually and skillfully seguing initially delicate and seductive applications into tired and deteriorated masks of excess sweat and over-saturation once things begin to go South for the characters. Russell has crafted a fairly traditional historical crime drama. All the directorial hallmarks and production elements are in place that have marked out other successful films of its genre, but its execution by an ensemble such as this lends it a distinctively contemporary and premium finish.