David O. Russell is the director who keeps on doing. On the heels of the wildly successful Silver Linings Playbook (2012), Russell continues his filmmaking renaissance with the over-the-top comedy crime caper American Hustle. After finding moderate success early in his career with films like Flirting with Disaster (1996), Three Kings (1999), and I Heart Huckabees (2004), Russell went on a six-year filmmaking hiatus. But he’s come back stronger than ever—American Hustle is one of his best movies yet.
The plot loosely follows the Abscam scandal of the 1970’s, in which the FBI used a seasoned con man to help take down corrupt politicians. Russell takes the bones of the story and packs on the meat in a narrative centered on smooth-talking con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale). Irving meets his match with the cunning, yet troubled, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), whose talent for reinvention helps propel their scheme. Together they con their way to the top, only to be caught by a bug-eyed Bradley Cooper who plays FBI agent Richie DiMasso. In order to dig their way out, Irving and Sydney embark on a mission to help Richie and the FBI bring down corrupt politicians. And while they may seem poised for the task, Irving’s volatile wife Roslyn (Jennifer Lawrence) stands to ruin everything.
In the world of Russell’s films, nothing else matters but character. The energy that animates all this director’s movies comes from Russell’s perfectly flawed three-dimensional characters, but in American Hustle he seems to have upped the ante by giving us even more unpredictable personalities. These off the wall characters catapult you through the film, resulting in a scattered, chaotic mess that sets the perfect tone for a far-fetched narrative. Pile on mile-high hair, plunging leather dresses and a grooving soundtrack, Russell perfects the art of excess.
The highlight of the movie by far proves to be an electrifying Jennifer Lawrence. The tears effortlessly roll down her perfect cheeks as she schemes and manipulates her way through this film with just as much ease, if not more, than her husband the seasoned con man. Russell teaches us that in order to hustle, you have to live the lie until it becomes real to everyone else. This makes Roslyn the greatest hustler of them all. In her own twisted fashion, she fully believes that no matter what she does, she is right. She blatantly sets out to hurt Irving but never admits it to herself; instead she manages to perfectly twist any situation to come out on top. And it’s these borderline sociopathic tendencies (kissing your husband’s mistress in the bathroom anyone?) that make her a master manipulator, which Jennifer Lawrence fully embraces. Every time she appears on screen, Lawrence delivers with such a fiery energy that you almost wish the whole movie centered entirely around her antics.
With Oscar season coming up, American Hustle looks strong in several categories and is likely to pick up nominations for best director, picture, and several acting categories. Jennifer Lawrence could make history if she pulls off another Oscar win just a year after winning Best Actress for her work in Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook. The competition is stiff, but after watching her lip synch to “Live and Let Die” while cleaning the house in one of American Hustle’s defining scenes, Lawrence is a lock in my book. But the real question is, could David O. Russell see his first Oscar win this year? Russell reinvents himself with American Hustle by channeling his darkly comedic voice into these oh-so flawed characters. Oscar gold or not, he’s cementing himself as a director for the ages.
Michael Cummings is a senior in the English and Creative Writing Departments.