‘American Hustle’ Review

Published 1 year ago by , Updated October 17th, 2014 at 9:23 pm,

american hustle christian bale amy adams bradley cooper American Hustle Review

Russell is far more interested in character than plot development, and that allows American Hustle to offer a real crowd-pleasing experience – one with profound social commentary.

American Hustle introduces us to Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a brilliant con artist who gets by in 1970s America by selling fraudulent art and hooking customers on empty loans, among other shady businesses/schemes. Irving finds a kindred spirit in Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), who is quick to become his confidant, partner and lover – despite her knowing that Irving is a married man, who wed the much younger Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) when she was a struggling single mother.

In 1978, Irving and Sydney get entrapped by the fledgling FBI agent Richard DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who recruits the pair to assist him on a sting to take down corrupt New Jersey powerbrokers and politicians. The primary target of the operation soon becomes Camden mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), a highly-admired public official who falls hook, line and sinker for DiMaso, Irving and Sydney’s illicit plan to stimulate the Jersey economy – one that ends ups involving a fake wealthy Sheik, real Miami mobsters, and a whole lot of palms getting greased.

american hustle bradley cooper christian bale 570x294 American Hustle Review

Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale in ‘American Hustle’

The characters and events depicted in American Hustle were influenced by the FBI’s real-life ABSCAM operation in the late 1970s/early 1980s, but the movie dispels any notion of being a factual recreation of those events (and wryly mocks films that wear their ‘based on true events’ label as a badge of honor) in the very first frame. Instead, director David O. Russell – drawing from a script draft by Eric Warren Singer (The International) that Russell heavily revised – uses the historical incident to create a skewering examination of U.S. culture, values, lifestyles and the American dream, as explored through an intimate character-driven feature that ranges from poignant to insightful and downright hilarious (sometimes, all three at once).

American Hustle, like Russell’s last two films (The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook), is far more interested in getting under the skin of its blue-collar characters than building a tightly-constructed plot. However, by deeply exploring the motives, insecurities and egos of the players (fictionalized versions of real people), Russell succeeds in not only creating a portrait of the 1970s that holds a mirror up to modern times, but he also (ironically?) probably gets closer to ‘the truth’ about what ABSCAM was all about than a just-the-facts memoir could’ve done. As with his previous work, Russell’s circus act ultimately works because he’s put together a crack team of talented actors, who are completely onboard for his latest roller coaster ride of human emotion.

american hustle amy adams christian bale 570x294 American Hustle Review

Sydney and Irving

Christian Bale put on 40 pounds and gave himself a terrible combover to portray Irving, which allows the Oscar-winner to create a cleverly subversive portrait of the prototypical Hollywood con artist. He’s not a caricature either, as Bale also infuses Irving with a real sense of humanity and vulnerability, which makes the character feel right at home in the film’s universe (somewhere between a farce and realistic depiction of life). Likewise, Amy Adams as Sydney isn’t just a male’s fantasy of a sexy lady sidekick, but a feminist portrayal of a person who – like everyone else in the movie – uses all of their qualities (in Sydney’s case, that includes physical beauty and emotional charm) to their advantage, in order to seem more confident and smarter than they actually are.

Bradley Cooper once again proves that his range goes beyond slimy handsome bachelors, as his American Hustle character is very convincing – an ambitious man-child, who is able to believably switch gears between being too cut-throat and too gullible for his own good, moment by moment. Jeremy Renner is also successful with his take on Carmine: a politician who is sincere about his principles, yet is still willing to bend/break the rules in order to achieve his admirable goals. That said, the scene-stealer of the film is Jennifer Lawrence as Irving’s wife Rosalyn, a hot mess of a person who causes all sorts of trouble for those around her (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not), yet ultimately wants the same things as everyone else – to be loved and life freely, even if it requires some hard choices to get there.

american hustle jennifer lawrence amy adams 570x294 American Hustle Review

Lastly, with regard to the supporting cast: the most noteworthy player is Louis C.K. as Richard’s FBI boss, Stoddard Thorsen, whose relentlessly polite behavior and interactions with Cooper are one of the film’s highlights. Meanwhile, recognizable character actors like Michael Peña (End of Watch), Jack Huston (Boardwalk Empire) and Alessandro Nivola (Ginger & Rosa) make brief appearances here, yet each one gets a moment or two to show more personality than another film might’ve allowed them (side note: there’s also a rather funny cameo appearance that I won’t spoil – you’ll know it when you see it).

Russell’s exuberant direction on American Hustle ensures that the cast has an electrifying atmosphere to draw inspiration from, as the film captures the live-wire environment and experience of life in a particular historical setting like few other movies in recent memory. The camera work and cinematography by Russell and director of photography by Linus Sandgren (Promised Land) have fairly prompted comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s work – as has American Hustle in general (see: the soundtrack composed of catchy 1970s tunes). Yet, the visual storytelling choices are different enough to create a similar, yet unique style, rather than a kitschy imitation.

american hustle review 570x294 American Hustle Review

Meanwhile, the film’s three editors – Alan Baumgarten (Gangster Squad), Jay Cassidy (Silver Linings Playbook) and Crispin Struthers (3 of Us) – prove able to organize Rusell’s raw footage and countless amounts of actors improvising into a sprawling, yet satisfying three-act narrative. Admittedly, by the time the proceedings draw to a conclusion, the film gives into genre conventions and wraps up in a way that is more predictable, when juxtaposed against the exhilarating storm of frenzied human drama that came before (The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook have the same issue).

By his own admission, though, Russell is far more interested in character than plot development, and that allows American Hustle to offer a real crowd-pleasing experience – one with profound social commentary, laugh-out-loud comedy and even unexpected moments of compassion, to boot. This is one con you won’t regret falling for.

In case you’re still undecided, here is the trailer for American Hustle:


American Hustle runs 138 minutes long and is Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence. Now playing in theaters nation-wide.

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5

Follow Sandy Schaefer on Twitter @feynmanguy
Get our free email alerts on the topics and author of this article:


Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to Gravatar.com and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.

If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it. Keep in mind that we do not allow external links in the comments.

  1. Damn. Batman finally forms the Justice League and he only gets Lois Lane, Mystique, Hawkeye, and f*cking Rocket Raccon.

    • I was gonna say the same thing. Awesome…

      • haha what a line up

    • Yeah, the top comment on the IGN review has a picture of their comic book counterparts together.

  2. Excellent movie. I went last night and the acting was just the best I’ve seen in a while. The flow of the movie was just so good that you didn’t think it was over 2 hours long but rather when it was all don’t you felt like it was only 30 minutes. Cooper and Bale are just awesome. They just keeps rising on my list of top 5 actors. I highly recommend anyone to check this movie out.

  3. Saw it last night. Agree with the ratings. The cameo was worth it too. Worth the ticket price.

  4. Is the cameo the one that happens in the back room? Very good movie, but wait till you see the Wolf of Wall Street, Jonah Hill will win a Oscar. Wolf is just more fun. Both movies will be up for Oscars.

  5. damm, now this makes me want to see it even more i was gonna wait till Monday… less busy

  6. Damn. I think I’m gonna do a double marathon with this and Wolf of Wall Street, since here in Indonesia, they’re gonna be released at the same time…

    • when will this be released in indoo??????? please tell

  7. I’ve been reading that this is the second-best Martin Scorcese film of the year.

    • You mean American Hustle could have been made by Marty?

      • Just that it keeps getting compared to Marty’s work, this article included.

  8. ehhh, i didn’t seem that why to me especially watching each of them within a day of each other

  9. I actually was very underwhelmed by this film, and i was really anticipating it. It lacked the fun and upbeat tempo that the fighter and silver linings playbook had. It was as if david o russel abandonded his style to try imitate goodfellas. And it failed miserably at that despite its great acting. I was bored and the plot was muddled and all over the place. Probably the most overrated film of the year imo. 95% on RT…

    • Completely and totally agree. Kept checking my watch to see how much longer it was going to be.

  10. When i saw Sandy was reviewing this i was armed and ready to finally snap after months of disagreeing with him but, alas, we finally agree on one film this year!

    Great review …and not just because i agree with it

  11. Seen this last night and loved it! I always rate films I see after seeing them (I have a notebook that I write down every film I see in at the theater and rate them on a scale of 1-5, Im a nerd lol) I gave this a 4.5/5. Very cool to see the same score on here! Anyways yes, another excellent film from David O. Russell. The entire cast was top notch but the stand out to me was Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams. They were magnificent. I really enjoyed the twist and turns along the way in the story, fun stuff.

  12. A fantastic dialogue on western culture, our obsessions with materialism and sex, and cognitive dissonance theory. Oscar worthy performances all around (especially Lawrence.)

  13. “Some of this stuff actually happened” LOL, classic…

    • I’m partial to “science oven.” :D

  14. Loved it.

    I can see this film holding up very well over time. While it may or may not win Best Picture this year, I think it will endure better than some of those films.

    There’s no doubt that Scorsese inspired some of the look of the film but Russell makes it his own and in fact it’s the actors who own this film.

    The film was fun. It’s the sort of film that makes watching great actors at their best matter more than the plot that’s erected to allow them the freedom to perform and bring out the flaws, the good, the complications that make us all human.

    Great film.

  15. Oh thats nice. Watch it for on some crap website for free instead of paying some actual cash to see it at a theater-the way it was meant to be seen. Loser.

  16. I took my college kids to see American Hustle. We felt Hustled. The first 40 minutes were so boring we walked out. Thanks to the movie theater for refunding our money.
    Waste of time. I will rent it for a buck twenty and watch the rest. maybe!

    • I agree with you, I was on the verge of walking out, great cast but with all that talent, I would expect much more, waste of a Saturday night. Kind of movie you will forget all about.

  17. aha…its great…it was not that bad…!!

  18. not so bad…dude…>!!!

  19. What a boring movie! Lacked substance….what a lame movie. However, saw Wolf of Wallstreet….amazing movie…kept you on the edge of your seat the entire time!

    • Yah, actually, I felt the opposite. I feel like Wolf of Wallstreet will do well critically just because the topic matter is a popular sentiment. But the movie was just full of characters I did not like or feel for. I honestly was hoping for that chubby guy, forgot his name now, to get arrested or get killed or something, he was so annoying. I sighed so loud when he DIDN’T choke to death… If it wasn’t for the nudity, my 3 hours would have been completely wasted in my opinion. But whatever… American Hustle was all about the characters, which is something I enjoy more. Different strokes for different folks…

  20. I found American Hustle quite disappointing, i.e. I most certainly do not agree with the high praise that it’s got from reviewers. This is one of those cases where I find the fact that other people love this film really surprising. To me, it is okay/mediocre at best. Part of the problem is that I was expecting to be dazzled by something great.

    Very long, messy, unfocused (and I usually love abstract/weird films…this one bored me). Extremely self-indulgent. I will say that Christian Bale is absolutely fantastic in this, Amy Adams is great and this is one of the only times that Jeremy Renner has been watchable for me. But Bradley Cooper’s character felt flat, and in spite of her scene-stealing antics, Jennifer Lawrence felt awkward and ultra-gimmicky.

    Overall, this film just did not do it for me. I do realize that I am in the minority with that, but hey.

    • This is a spot-on review of the movie. Especially the middle sentence. I don’t even need to write my review because you already said it.

  21. Surprised that some didn’t like this one. I really liked Bale’s in this and truly felt for Renner’s character at the end. The one, and only slightly, character that didn’t do it for me was Cooper…but I’m not sure it was his acting or me just liking what happened to him at the end.

  22. Must be one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a theater in a very long time. Real yawner.

    • I completely agree, it was so boring! I went with a group of people and when the lights went up I expected everyone to have felt the same as me, but they all loved it! I just felt like nothing actually really happened, and that a lot of it needed editing out. I was yawning the whole way through too!

  23. The movie started out slow, like a very bad Woody Allen New Yorker film. Luckily, I came into the movie a few minutes late, and therefore did not have to suffer too much.

    The scene where Bradley Cooper is eating with his family in the family bathroom and family kitchen is like similar scenes from Saturday Night Fever and the original Walter Mitty movie.

    The plot twists near the end about the $2 million was confusing.

    The scene with Bradley Cooper eating dinner with his family with his hair under beauty treatment was like similar scenes in Saturday Night Fever and the original Walter Mitty movie, and kind of weird.

    The ice fishing story kept reappearing and was tiresome.

    Jennifer Lawrence was the most believable acting: I know more people similar to her than anyone else in the movie.

    Otherwise, for the most part, I enjoyed the movie, and would recommend it to anyone. But not to anyone who in real life is desparately paying on loans or credit.

  24. Agree with the people who found this one really tedious. A stellar cast of actors who I usually enjoy, but this one had me bored to tears. By the hour mark you’d have needed to strap me to my seat to keep me from leaving.

  25. One of the worst movies I have ever seen. I am guessing by the reviews on here that the critic wrote them himself. Or maybe there were 2 movies called American Hustle released at the same time and I watched the long drawn out anti-climatic one.