‘American Hustle’ is David O. Russell’s latest reinvented homage


Sam Lineberger

With “I Heart Huckabees,” “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” writer-director David O. Russell established himself as an adept imitator of genre classics with a flair for ensemble casting.
It’s hard not to compare the latter two to Russell’s most recent feature “American Hustle,” which not only combines the star power of the two casts, but also navigates between the gritty desperation of “The Fighter” and the nifty optimism of “Silver Lining’s Playbook.”american_hustle_ver6_xlg

“American Hustle” does its best to reanimate the spirit of Martin Scorsese with a plot that hums right along, pulsing and occasionally twisting back on itself. But in an homage to Scorsese of sorts, Russell dims the surface plot—inspired by the 1978 Abscam sting operation—and instead brings the internal story of personal betrayal, jealousy and greed to the forefront.

Christian Bale is again grossly transformed, this time taking on a beer-and-funnel-cake physique to fit the role of burgeoning con-man Irving Rosenfeld. Amy Adams joins him in crime as the ex-stripper Sydney Prosser.

Undercover cop Richie DiMaso, played by Bradley Cooper, thickens the stew in the kind of predictably unpredictable role he’s becoming known for. DiMaso pins Rosenfeld and Prosser when the latter lets her emotional guard down, and offers the two a chance at redemption by taking down several of New York’s easily-bribed politicians.

Supporting characters are just as tightly portrayed. Louis C.K. is cast perfectly as the dopey, abusable Stoddard Thorsen and Michael Peña makes an appearance as an FBI agent posing as a Sheik.

One of the oddities throughout “American Hustle” is how much Bale and crew are able to bring the characters to life despite so many average lines of dialogue.

Serendipitously enough, the sometimes wooden dialogue actually works in the film’s favor. These are women and men circumstantially forced to act out versions of themselves.

Thus, what at first seems like a sycophantic relationship between Russell and the films he’s inspired by turns into a much more genuine tale about the necessity to reinvent oneself in the thick of a world full of phonies.

The film’s central visual trope of outrageous hairdos exemplifies this perfectly. Rosenfeld’s personality is as elaborately layered as his glued-on toupee.

His wife, Rosalyn—the fiery Jennifer Lawrence—wields a golden, standoffish nest. Jeremy Renner’s Mayor Carmine Polito, a family man, sports a pride-swollen Nixon hairdo, while Prosser’s red locks ensnare everyone’s gaze.

Though the plot of “American Hustle” attempts to take center stage, these gilded, greed-laden characters are what keep the film chugging.

While there isn’t a whole lot of moral substance to the film, it does exactly what one hopes of a summer flick: It’s big, sometimes loud and pleasantly alters the formula.

Story by Sam Lineberger, A&E reporter