American Hustle is one of those films. You know them, the ones where you’re never sure who is lying to whom and who really is being taken for a ride until the final showdown. Well, almost. Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a conman who has a flourishing (fake) business with his mistress Sydney (Amy Adams) until they get busted by the FBI. In exchange for their freedom, they must help agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) bait and take down a few other frauds. But DiMaso is too eager to prove himself and the con escalates from loan frauds to politicians and soon they are all in way over their heads.
The characters are well written; there are no good guys and bad guys, just guys who are trying to do what they deem right and each of them is funny, scary and a little pathetic in their own right. Cooper’s cop starts out as the eager fed who thinks out of the box to mount an ambitious operation but as the con progresses he is more like a gambler unable to stop upping the stakes, while Irving is only trying to get the job done to return safely to his wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and their little boy. Can we talk about how 23-year-old Jennifer Lawrence is already trusted with wife, widow and mother roles when most of her peers only get to play teenagers? The trust is deserved a hundred times over though. She’s been given an intense (if unstable) character with a temper and no restraints and she makes the most of it. Her performance has already landed her a Golden Globe award and BAFTA and Oscar nominations, so Hollywood isn’t letting go of her anytime soon.
The whole film has awards written all over it. Bale certainly uglied-up enough to get one. But it’s a common thing in American Hustle: the men look ridiculous and the women fabulous. Bale makes himself disappear behind Irving, partly thanks to the costume and hair and make-up but also by his skill – the familiar face is forgotten as are his previous parts as big and caped they may be. The same is true for Jeremy Renner as a bribe-happy corrupt politician that you still can’t manage to hate.
It’s good to watch a film where you don’t have to be rooting for anyone but just coming along for the ride. And people do. When I saw it, the audience was laughing – not chuckling, laughing for real, and there was even a collective “Oooow” of which all I will say is that Robert de Niro is involved. You’ll “ow” it when you see it.
American Hustle was released in UK cinemas on 7 January.