Oscar night is this coming Sunday, so any conversation about American Hustle will have to start with its 10 Oscar nominations, even though the conversation should really start at the incredible hair. Seriously, no movie had better (or, actually, more entertaining) hair. From Bradley Cooper’s perm to Jennifer Lawrence’s half-beehive to Christian Bale’s combover- it’s frankly surprising that the Academy even noticed the performances. But that’s how great these performances are; even terrible fashion decisions can’t deny J-Law’s ferocity.
American Hustle may be the most fun movie of the year. Christian Bale plays Irving, a con man running an insurance scam with his mistress Lady Edith (né Sydney), played by Amy Adams in a role that couldn’t be stranger but that Adams makes seem completely natural. She plays a drifter with a fabulously fake British accent, which is as much a con as anything she and Irving get up to. Irving and Sydney get caught in their act by an FBI agent, one Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). Richie enlists the two of them to help the FBI catch dirty politicians in the act of taking bribes, including the mayor of Camden, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner, another cast member with out-of-this-world hair), who may be less corrupt than Richie assumes.
This being a David O. Russell movie, none of these characters is as one- or two-dimensional as a summary might make them appear. Meaning: these characters are all insane. I’m no psychiatrist…but they’re crazy. Even the FBI agent. And leading the way of the crazy is Jennifer Lawrence as Irving’s wife, Rosalyn.* Lawrence’s performance is so off the wall, so unpredictable, it’s all anyone can do to keep up with her. The movie takes on her character’s personality- all over the place, messy (in the best way), rarely predictable. Russell’s camera is almost as adventurous, doing its best Goodfellas impression with sweeping pans and slow zooms on character’s desperate faces.
Russell and Co. had me won over until the very end. Since this is a movie about bad people doing bad things but remaining lovable throughout, I would have been happy with a tongue-in-cheek ending that left them mired in the crap they stirred up for themselves. That would have said something about America and how we con ourselves into our own troubles. I also would have been happy with a redemptive ending, where Irving somehow finds a way to turn his life around to be with his wife and son. (SPOILER ALERT) But that’s not what we got. We got a forced reinvention tacked on to an equally forced big reveal. American Hustle could have been the best movie of the year if Russell had really committed to redeeming his characters. We need more movies that don’t sell the idea of redemption short. I guess that’s what I get for falling for a movie about con men.
[Disclaimer: A lot of profanity in this movie, and some scenes with what the MPAA calls “sexual content”. Only a couple of them are truly explicit when it comes to nudity.]