To steal a quote from Woody Harrelson in the 1992 comedy White Men Can't Jump, filmmaker David O. Russell is "in the zone". Russell finds himself in the midst of an unbelievable directorial stretch that will surely bring him his third consecutive Best Picture Nomination when they're officially announced early next year. In his latest masterpiece, American Hustle, the writer/director puts a clever fictionalized spin on the FBI's ABSCAM operation which took place in the late 1970s. So clever, in fact, that we may have found our next Academy Awards Best Picture winner.
After con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his seductive mistress, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), are arrested for loan fraud by up-and-coming FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), they have two options: either face some serious jail time, or help DiMaso bring down four other high profile criminals. Needless to say Irving and Sydney choose the latter, assisting DiMaso in a sting operation that couples New Jersey politician Camine Polito (Jeremy Renner), countless political officials and dangerous members of the mafia. The only wild card in the matter is Irving's wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), whose instability could put the whole operation in jeopardy.
With David O. Russell's American Hustle, you can expect a big-time splash that will leave a ripple effect on just about every major Oscar race out there. The filmmaker has coached his two previous casts to 7 ... now let that sink in for a minute ... 7 Oscar nominations with their work in both Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter. Current cast members Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence understand the greatness of Russell as he helped lead both of them to their only Academy Awards victories. As expected, American Hustle delivers no shortage of fine performances. From top to bottom the cast is excellent. It all starts with leading man Christian Bale who packs on the pounds and shaves the center of his head to truly capture the art of the comb-over. Not only does Bale display onscreen excellence yet again, he continues to remind us of his dedication to the craft. There may not be a more committed actor on the entire planet. But he is far from the only shining star, perhaps Bradley Cooper is most impressive with a towering turn as Richie DiMaso, a young FBI agent who becomes more and more obsessed with making the biggest bust in U.S. history. And let's not forget Jennifer Lawrence. While the young actress moseys along and embraces all of the onscreen recognition and public love she's been receiving, her performance actually feels like one of the least convincing roles in the film, although still fantastic. American Hustle's ensemble is spectacular and, without question, the finest of the year.
You'll need to search for flaws in David O. Russell's American Hustle, but one irritating aspect is the director's fixation on the time period. There's no subtlety to it whatsoever. Russell continually throws the 1970 vibe right in your face by purposely calling attention to it throughout the entire film. In some ways it feels as though he sacrifices substance for style and it's a shame. Furthermore, American Hustle does tend to drag on in its latter stages. You can sense where the movie's headed, but Russell takes his merry old time getting there. Thankfully, the writer/director has mastered the art of story-telling and uses a sharp comedic tone to help balance his out-stretched tale of power, greed and pushing the limits. By the time American Hustle is all said and done, it's obvious that Russell has a winning effort on his hands, one that's assured to garner plenty of attention on its road to the Oscars.
With the clock winding down and the cinematic year coming to a screeching halt, 2013 finally has a film that stands out above the rest. American Hustle is an energetic and hilarious adventure. And despite the fact that its dramatics aren't overly "touching" or "moving", nor should they be, American Hustle is a fun and engaging ride that you won't want to miss.