American Hustle (Columbia Films/Sony Pictures Releasing, R)

American-Hustle 75It lives up to the hype.

American-Hustle 500

Have you noticed how everyone in the world seems to be super excited about seeing American Hustle? Every demographic appears to be on board with this one, and it’s poised to become a huge hit. I feel fine about that — I’ve written many times in the past that Hustle’s director, David O. Russell, is one of the most reliable directors working today. It has a great cast (it reteams Russell with his stars from The Fighter, Christian Bale and Amy Adams, as well as his stars from Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence), the story is interesting (it’s loosely based on the Abscam scandal from the late ‘70s), it’s getting awards consideration buzz and critical praise out the ass, etc. Oh, and then there’s the fact that I’ve actually seen the thing, and I can attest that it lives up to the hype, so I don’t think any of these people getting all excited for it will be let down.

Our lead characters are Irving Rosenfeld (a near-unrecognizable Bale, who, come to think of it, is near-unrecognizable about half the time) and Sydney Prosser (Adams), a particularly cinematic duo of con artists in love. Both get a crack at doing the voice-over narration and both are potentially unreliable narrators, being that they’re con artists and all. After some perfunctory how-they-met stuff, Irving and Sydney take to gypping the desperate out of money in a loan scam. They’re eventually caught by a hungry young FBI agent named Richie DiMaso (Cooper, who is never better than when he’s working with Russell), who enlists them to entrap powerful political figures, to include a local mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). This is one of those movies where our leads keep getting more and more in over their heads, and meanwhile it’s hard to keep straight who’s double-crossing whom or who the good guys are and who the bad guys. And, as things escalate, it starts to look like no one, good or bad, lawless or law-enforcing, may come out of it safely.

Not that it’s a terribly suspenseful film — it’s closer to a comedy than it is a thriller, though it has elements of both. It’s aided in the comedy thing by memorable supporting turns by Lawrence as loose cannon Rosalyn, who is Irving’s mostly-estranged wife and the mother of his child, and by Louis C.K., who is DiMaso’s boss at the FBI and who gets a lot of mileage out of being the put-upon straight man to DiMaso’s manic work habits.

American Hustle feels like a lot of films you’ve seen before, but for the most part they will be movies you like, and it more grows from their seed than rips them off. Like Russell’s previous film, last year’s Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle is perhaps not a revolutionary film or a flawless film, but it’s a solid genre picture that can and will deservingly reach a large audience. | Pete Timmermann

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