Writer/director David O. Russell reteams with The Fighter's Christian Bale and Silver Linings Playbook's Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (very briefly too, an uncredited Robert De Niro) for an all-star 70s era tale loaded with fictional characters based on the real life scandal that rocked the East Coast: the back deals that went down attempting to revive Atlantic City.
The film moves so well, with not a weak link in the cast, that the overly familiar beats can be forgiven. It's a blast that feels like it could have been made in the past.
Here are the five ways you should hustle to this version of the American Dream:
1. The Art of Con. Small time crook Irving (Bale) makes five grand a pop from fleecing folks, all the while using a chain of dry cleaners as a front. After meeting Sydney (Adams) he's instantly hooked. The key? Irving wants to be hooked by her. That's important for any con; there has to be willingness on the part of the mark. For her part, how could Sydney not fall for a guy with such dedication to that hairstyle?
2. Fed-up Dos. In the post Watergate era, FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) plans on using Irving to nab bigger fish, namely, the mob and if he's lucky, politicians who include New Jersey's own mayor (Jeremy Renner). Cooper's manic energy is well served as is his curly do. Irving on the other end of the salon has a terrible comb over that gives new meaning to the term overworked. Sometimes it's all about the hair.
3. Adams and Lawrence. A lot of American Hustle seems directly lifted from Scorsese's landmark Goodfellas like the wall-to-wall classic rock, the roving cameras and jittery editing style. The astoundingly layered women's roles, however, are all Russell and co-screenwriter Eric Singer's creation. Adams and Lawrence are both nomination-worthy. We could watch Rosalyn (Lawrence) lip-sync "Live and Let Die" on a loop all day. When Sydney (Adams) isn't doing a trashy London accent as her con persona "Lady Edith Greensly", she's gut wrenching as a woman who can't find her way out of the corruption she designed. Lawrence continues to dazzle, always making interesting choices. As an actress, her range feels infinite.
4. Do the Hustle! It's been ages since a filmmaker has been able to marry the sensation of a period like Russell has with Hustle. A drug-fueled disco night out for Richie and Sydney scored to Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" is intoxicating. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson is out of the comic-books attire of his previous work (Man of Steel, Watchmen), but no less super.
5. Last Act Not at All Surprising. Alas, the party has to end. If you've seen Goodfellas, Boogie Nights, Blow or any of the other numerous funky drugs and crimes sagas, the climax will feel familiar. There are only so many variations on the "losing it all" motif. Still, before it all comes crashing down, American Hustle is filled with memorable one-liners, clever scams and best of all, a lot of heart.