(An edited version of this was first published in The New Indian Express)
David O.Russel chooses to begin the film with “Some of this actually happened“. That’s wonderful because it gives him all the freedom to reshape the narrative. There is just a crux of the story borrowed – Federal agents wanting to nab some corrupt officials. Around this he – along with Eric Singer – creates characters that make this film, the main reason the film today leads the Academy Awards nominations.
Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a con artist with a big paunch and a bigger bag of tricks. With his partner, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) they go around taking money from small time gullible people promising fat loans. There is tussle within the pair in more ways than one when Bradley Cooper’s Richie DiMaso enters the scene offering a deal to Irving and himself to Sydney. This is probably Cooper’s best role till date and it is also an unforgiving one in the larger scheme of things. Though he has vested interests it is apparent even to him that he will eventually be overmatched. Beyond this, the plot doesn’t matter. Russel keeps his cards close to his chest and the details are much like Amy Adams’ clothes and bosom. Everything is right there in front of you but nothing all too revealing. He plays us much like everyone in the film plays each other. As things heat up, everyone is a con artist here. Russel is more interested in the match-ups between his characters and they are so much fun. Between Irving and Sydney, between Irving and Richie, between Sydney and Richie, between Richie and his boss played by Louis C.K (the ice-fishing subplot is one for the ages), between Irving and his wife Rosalyn played by Jennifer Lawrence, who at first doesn’t look the part but plays it with enough sincerity mixed with that bit of sour detail, just like her perfume. Irving describes her as, “She was the Picasso of passive aggressive karate” and though there is less convincing evidence of this initially, the later scenes when she hilariously takes credit for Irving’s plans give you the idea. Sometimes she’s plain dumb and sometimes she’s playing dumb but it’s hard to tell which is when and that’s why this is a great albeit small performance.
Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street treated a story with potential for high octane drama much like a comedy. American Hustle is no different. The story with every character at the edge and in their most eccentric self, had the potential for drama but Russel treats it like a comedy. A large part of the film is laugh out loud funny. Just like The Wolf of Wall Street the characters themselves don’t see the humor. It plays out in the deadpan level for the most run and that gives a dark tinge to it that’s very much intended. The characters and the performances are the life and blood of this film and add to it an equally brilliant cast that rises to the occasion.