Among the nine films nominated for the coveted best-picture Oscar at the 86th Annual Academy Awards is “American Hustle,” a truly fantastic film inspired by an ABSCAM operation conducted by the FBI in the late 1970s, and the characters are based upon actual people. The movie is a combination crime drama and comedy, and it features some of the finest acting you’ll ever see on the silver screen.
The film begins in New York of 1978, when we meet Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a petty investment scam artist who is making a decent living by cheating people out of their hard-earned cash. One day at a party he encounters a beautiful woman named Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), and instantaneous sparks fly between them. Sydney is an incredibly intelligent woman with a great brain for business, and the two of them enter into a partnership in which she poses as Lady Edith Greensley, a wealthy Brit with financial connections in England.
In addition to becoming very successful business partners, Irving and Sydney fall madly in love. The only problem is that Irving is married to a loose cannon named Rosalyn, and he doesn’t want to leave his adopted son with her, but she refuses to divorce him.
As their scams become more and more profitable, Irving and Sydney finally slip up and find themselves caught by FBI Agent Richard (Richie) DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). But instead of arresting them, he proposes a deal. If they will help him set up a sting operation to entrap some powerful politicians into accepting bribes from an Arab sheik impostor, they will go free.
Now henceforth the film evolves into a number of fascinating scenes including the following: a great meeting with a mob boss played to the hilt by Robert Di Niro; an elaborate party; a classic dinner in a restaurant; an amazing sequence at a dance hall; and some incredible arguments among the principal characters.
As things proceed, no one really trusts anyone else, and to complicate matters even more, Richie falls for Sydney creating a nasty love triangle. And this development puts extra pressure on Richie, who is constantly battling with his beleaguered boss, Stoddard Thorsen (portrayed to hilarious perfection by Louis C.K.), about obtaining things (a jet and an entire floor of a hotel) to make the sting work.
Under the stellar direction of David Russell (“The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook”), “American Hustle” is inarguably one of the year’s finest films. In addition to the superb acting, which we will discuss in a moment, the movie perfectly captures the era of the late 1970s with marvelous costumes, great sets, and a soundtrack featuring some of the period’s best songs. And you really become caught up in the lives of the characters in Russell’s films. In the production notes, the director offered interesting insight to these people.
“These are movies about people whose lives have not gone the way they wanted or intended. There remains something deeply lovable about them, but they’re also heartbreaking. They spend the entire film, not just the third act, reckoning with who they are and how they are going to find their way to love life again. These characters have their sense of who they are splintered into pieces and are wondering not just what they’re going to do, but how they’re going to care about life again, how they’re going to love again. And it is important to me that they are passionate people who do or have truly loved life in some specific ways. This is as important to me as the ordeal of how they persevere, come out the other side, humbled and their love intact or renewed. It is no cliché when it is, as Irving says, lived from the feet up.
“The love affair between these two gives them a special power that anybody who’s ever been in love can attest to. When you’re in love, you feel that you’ve become more than the sum of the parts — something divine is happening to you. For me, the first part of the film is communicating how these two fell in love, how special they made each other feel, how much they love their lives — that enchantment was everything. We fall in love with their passion for life. And then trouble comes knocking. They will have to reinvent themselves to survive, and when they do that, what will happen to their love?”
Russell managed to assemble a truly remarkable ensemble cast for this film, and there isn’t a single weak link in it. Thus it isn’t surprising that the film received Oscar nominations in all four major acting categories. While Bale and Cooper certainly deserve their nods as best actor and best supporting actor respectively, I think Adams and Lawrence, nominees for best actress and best supporting actress respectively, completely steal the show. In the production notes, Adams had high praise for her costar Bale and provided an analysis of Sydney.
“I never met a more charming character than Christian playing Irving. You identify with him. I can see how Sydney gets caught up in it. Sydney thinks she’s embarking on the greatest love of her life, and she doesn’t think she’s a con artist. Sydney begins as a person who doesn’t like who she is, and she creates a world for herself onto which she can project her fantasies of who she wants to be. She finds a man who values her intelligence. And when that’s taken away from her, it creates a conflict. Her story is about her hustle, but, in the end, she wants to find the truth of who she is.”
Lawrence’s character of Rosalyn completely lacks Sydney’s sophistication, but she doesn’t want to admit it. She’s a Long Island housewife with some serious issues that lead Irving to refer to her as “…the Picasso of passive aggressive karate.” In analyzing her character in the production notes, Lawrence explained how picky she was about her make-up and costumes.
“Rosalyn is very Long Island — red acrylic nails, huge hair all the time, loves leopard print. I imagined her never going out, flipping through the magazines, buying these clothes, imagining that she’d look exactly like the pictures, but she has no idea how to dress for her body. So costume fittings became all about making sure that nothing really looked good – ‘that’s not tacky enough, that’s too classic.’ I wanted her to look a little awkward.
“Rosalyn is manic — very up or very down. She is so afraid of being alone that she’d rather be unhappily married. It seems like there’s a simple solution to her problems: She should get a divorce, but she can’t let herself do that. That’s where her desperation comes from. She’s in survival mode. The marriage isn’t working, but she still has expectations for Irv that he can never meet. Her constant state of disappointment causes her to make some incredibly bad decisions that just make everything worse.”
Lawrence is quite simply one of most gifted young actresses ever to grace the big screen, and the argument she and Adams stage in the restroom of a restaurant is a true classic.
“American Hustle” has it all – comedy, drama, mystery, love, hate, jealousy, and more. With its 10 Oscar nominations, including those for all the major categories, there is no doubt that this film is an overwhelming 10. And it’s definitely worth hustling out to see!