In American Hustle, the art of conning people, both personally and professionally, is front and centre. The heavy satirical elements of American Hustle indicate that the movie, in itself, gleefully pulls the wool over their audiences’ eyes, leaving them brilliantly dazed and confused, but always entertained.
The humour comes in the form of the ridiculous, entangled situations the hapless yet loveable characters find themselves in. At many points, it is unrealistic, but the film never bothers with reality, and so, as the viewer, you find it easy to suspend your disbelief and instead laugh and commiserate along with them. However, most of the humour works simply because of the gravitas of the actors behind these characters, all of whom could easily have been simple clichés.
Christian Bale is the sleazy con-man, yes, but this con-man seems to wallow in his do-gooder and people-pleasing persona which does get him and his cons enmeshed in some bad stuff. Amy Adams is the social-climbing vixen, but it has more to do with her self-worth than materialistic trappings. Bradley Cooper is the highly-ambitious and motivated cop, but there’s so much instability in him that honestly it never seems like he has any control of the situation. Jennifer Lawrence is the firecracker, the ditzy housewife with a big mouth, but there’s soul and a well of emotion behind all of what she says and does – the need to be loved and the need to matter. If anything, Jeremy Renner’s character remains a cliché, as the straight-laced politician, but quite frankly his character is necessary in this melee of characters as sort of the grounding force among them all.
While the game of conning is at the centre of the film, it is these wonderfully flawed and well thought out characters, and the great acting performances behind them that really make American Hustle sizzle. So while it can often get ridiculous, it never gets tiresome: you always care about these characters, whether in a positive or negative way. David O. Russell is able to up the crazy by relying on his characters and his actors to produce the heart of the film.
American Hustle is brash, unapologetic, and revels in its own craziness in such a way that is sure to divide audiences between those who find it hilarious and enjoyable, and those who leave the theatre confused and empty. That’s the beauty of the film, however, that it basically could care less which side you fall on – it stands its ground based on its director’s vision and its stunning cast’s juicy interpretation of their highly-flawed, yet ultimately sympathetic, characters. It is for this bravery, and for the incredible performances, that American Hustle succeeds in becoming one of the most interesting and, yes, enjoyable films of the year.