American Hustle (David O. Russell, 2013)

Heavily and intendedly inspired by the FBI-conducted Abscam sting operation present throughout the late ’70s and early ’80s, American Hustle is a decidedly vibrant benchmark in David O. Russell’s already eclectic body of work. Focusing on one Irving Rosenfeld’s (Christian Bale) con-fueled collaboration with agreeably sexy Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), the dynamic duo’s increasingly lucrative operation comes to a screeching halt thanks to overzealous FBI upstart Richie DiMaso’s (Bradley Cooper) efforts. Forced to either collaborate or face certain jail time, the con artists and their jittery puppeteer embark on a tangibly unstable quest to fulfill the former’s obligation to the law.

Ceaselessly brimming with era-appropriate details and an obvious adherence to character building, American Hustle effortlessly showcases O. Russell’s penchant for assured if occasionally sloppy filmmaking. As it hammers home a decidedly humanistic spin on its Abscam-inspired narrative, the film heavily relies on narration from its key players to fill us in on each other’s presumed intentions, motives and roles – something that works surprisingly well and to Hustle‘s utmost advantage. From Irving and Sydney’s fateful first meeting to an awkward, hate-inspiring love triangle, the script – despite its focus-oriented flaws – keeps things consistently engaging as we learn to love, hate or sympathize with the characters.

Taking into consideration the comparisons drawn between this and similarly ensemble-powered true crime efforts (GoodFellas, etc.), the procedural goings-on don’t quite carry with them a sustained sense of grim consequence or general unconventionality. Even despite the high-stakes game Irving, Richie and Sydney initiate with their primary New Jersey mayoral target (Jeremy Renner), tension is never built competently enough to figuratively keep you on the edge of your seat. This in mind, the story told throughout Hustle still remains compelling and multifaceted enough to entertain at regular intervals, and for that, I applaud it.

Scoring obvious points for a collectively brilliant ensemble and era-specific charm, American Hustle surpasses comparable efforts of years past thanks to a simply effective cocktail of alternately character-driven and well-realized content. It’s technically proficient and all the more enjoyable for it, however to say that O. Russell’s latest doesn’t reinvent the thematic wheel wouldn’t be far from the truth.

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