Two con artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) get roped by an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) into a scheme to bring down an earnest mayor (Jeremy Renner) and as many congressmen as possible. But when the mafia (headed by Robert DeNiro) get embroiled in the ruse, allegiances get dicey. American Hustle is from one of my favorite writer/directors, David O. Russell (Three Kings, Silver Linings Playbook), who has yet to wrong to the movie-going public. He's great with ensembles and he's smart enough to give good ones a wide berth. The men all do fine jobs here, including comedian Louis C.K. in a memorable supporting role as Cooper's reluctant boss. But it's the women who really shine. Four-time Oscar nominee Adams is especially good when she tells boyfriend Bale the great lengths to which she will go to make Cooper think she loves him. She'll keep you guessing as to whose side she's really on.
And then there’s Jennifer Lawrence. Jennifer Fucking Lawrence. Wow. Her character is almost tertiary to the plot and her screen-time is much less than the others, but as Bale’s loose cannon of a wife, she steals the show. I’ll be shocked if she doesn’t take home the best supporting actress Oscar for this one. She gets to cry, she gets to scream, she gets to blow things up, she gets to be sexy, she gets to be funny, and when things go her way she even cleans the house to a forceful rendition of “Live and Let Die”. I haven’t been this blown away by a performance in a long time.
With big money, mobsters, and political scandal mixed into the brew, American Hustle could have been a heavy movie, but Russell and his cast never let go of the darkly comic potential of the piece. It’s light and fun, but never so irreverent that you don’t get caught up in the characters’ crises of conscience. And the disco-era soundtrack is icing on the cake.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor (Bale), Actress (Adams), Supporting Actor (Cooper), Supporting Actress (Lawrence), Film Editing, Costume Design, Production Design