‘Some of this actually happened’ boasts a title card at the start of American Hustle, a new crime drama from director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter). A stylish caper about an entrapment operation run by the FBI in the late 70s involving cornered con artists, American Hustle has the credentials but its screenplay lacks the wit and ingenuity of a genuine crowd-pleaser like Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven.
Christian Bale undergoes another physical transformation as con man Irving Rosenfeld. He and his seductive partner-in-crime Sydney (Amy Adams) are forced by unhinged FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to entrap a string of corrupt politicians and powerbrokers – including Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), the beloved mayor of Camden, New Jersey. It’s a risky scheme at the best of times, but things only go from bad to worse when Mafiosi join the party.
The star of the show is actually the Girl on Fire herself, Jennifer Lawrence. Here she plays Irving’s unpredictable wife Rosalyn, and true to name is prone to setting her house and other appliances aflame. She’s got a big mouth and is the wild card of the whole sting. It’s a terrific supporting role, and in many ways she’s the ‘life of the party’ – as other characters are also keen to point out. Whenever she’s on screen the picture gains a buzz and energy that had been lacking, which only continues to cement Lawrence’s superstar status.
American Hustle is let down the rest of the time by its fairly ordinary story, which manages to just coast by thanks to its slick period design, skilled lead actors and good humour. Even so, the long runtime doesn’t help and only exacerbates the feeling that it’s all built on a stretched plot. Fortunately, at least the thematic pretensions about cutting through the bull to get to the truth mostly hit their lofty mark.
Jennifer Lawrence shines in this serious and well-acted but ultimately unsurprising crime drama.