‘American Hustle’ rustles up two thumbs

‘American Hustle’ successfully tackles big themes. (AP Photo)

David O. Russell has proved himself to be a competent director with films like “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” but with his latest Oscar contender, “American Hustle,” he has proved that there is a method to his madness.

The film follows Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), two people who are too smart to make an honest living. After the pair meets, they quickly become lovers and then the dream con-artist team.

They eventually fall into a routine that, although simple, becomes a lucrative scheme for them. This scheme involves Sydney’s alter ego, Lady Edith Greensly, a British aristocrat. However, their world quickly comes crashing down when motivated and hot-headed FBI agent Richard DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) catches them and cuts them a deal to help him bring down corruption in the government.

One of these corrupt government officials is Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), who is the mayor of Camden. He plans to use money from a foreign entity to build up Atlantic City and help the state of New Jersey.

The trio’s plans become endangered when Irving’s passive-aggressive big-mouthed wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) begins complicating matters.

American Hustle is an incredibly well-made ’70s crime dramedy with a style that matches the film’s content. Russell knows what the film is supposed to be and allows it to take on a life of its own. It’s an experience. The ridiculous hair, the flashy clothes and the big bombastic performances add to his cause.

Russell’s direction is very careful and deliberate, with each shot having meaning and purpose. Even the editing is very intentional, for the filmmaking helps the story. Irving is very calculated. He is very skilled in the art of hustling and the film is respectful of his talent.

Although the movie has its comedic moments, most of it feels a bit forced, as does the plot. Apparently, many scenes were somewhat improvised, which muddled the story. The best example being the first 20 minutes, which seems like an unnecessary time warp. It’s not the most solid storytelling in recent years, but a mix of reliable narration and a quick-fire editing style keeps you thrilled and demands attention.

Despite this, the good does not only outweigh the bad — it breaks the scale. Underneath the glitz, hairspray, popped collars and ’70s power ballads is an adroit character study. It’s about the American dream and what we will do to obtain it.

“American Hustle” is camp at its best with its ridiculous music montages, big acting and sharp conversations but Russell handles it with absolute grace. It is a top-notch cast of A-listers at the top of their game, especially Cooper and Adams. Christian Bale has proven time and time again that he is one of the greatest actors of our generation and this film is no exception.

As the film unfolds, you realize it’s about two things: dissatisfaction and motivation. It’s about the American dream — which in this film is success — and what we will do to obtain it. It’s about people at the end of their ropes grasping for anything to keep from falling. Some people won’t understand it and some people will see a complicated offbeat comedy, but others will see the emotional depth involved. “American Hustle” is one of those few films that is a good time and a complete joy to watch, but also has something big to say.