Christian Bale plays as a loan shark named Irving Rosenfeld, who is in the business of scamming desperate people. With his string of Laundromats as a front to his illegitimate loansharking operation, Irving has a prosperous, but inconspicuous business running until he meets up with Sydney Prosser (played by Amy Adams). With the charming Sydney at his side, Irving takes his pseudo-loan shark business to new heights. But the swindling couple’s new success attracts unwanted attention, as they are embedded in a messy, adrenalin fueled love quintet with Irving’s wife, Roselyn (Jennifer Lawrence), an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper), and a mobster (Jack Huston). Dropped right in the middle of this untamed, erotic hurricane is Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Rener), who only wants what is best for his constituents. David Russell brings together cast members from his previous two films, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook to create a company of Hollywood heavyweights. American Hustle encompasses the good and the bad of the late 70’s. Disco, cocaine, perms, the mafia, political corruption, and economic rejuvenation all portray how the 70’s were a radiantly, volatile era.
The main characters in American Hustle are ambitious and strive towards different interpretations of what success is. To Irving and Sydney, success is financially based, to Dimaso it is the publicity that comes with a career case, and to Mayor Polito it is helping his city and family. These characters are extremely motivated to reaching their goals, as they push the boundaries of legality, morality, and integrity. Each oversteps the fine line that separates right from wrong, legal from illegal, but you find yourself only sympathizing with certain characters. The movie stresses the importance of not ensnaring yourself in one’s self-righteous aspiration, because you may find yourself entangled in your own personal nightmare. At the beginning of the story, Irving’s Laundromats were seen as a symbol of his humbleness and vulnerability, but as the movie progressed they were seldom referenced, as he becomes exposed in his own ambition.
There was not a bad performance by the cast throughout the movie, as I found myself cheering for even the sleaziest of characters. Christian Bale was in rare form with fifty extra pounds added to his physic. Although he played an unattractive, unethical, adulterous lead character, I still hoped that he would triumph in the end. Irving may have had many negative qualities, but his character evolved through conflict in the film into a genuine, caring individual.
Irving’s story is one that can be paralleled with Sydney’s, as they both come from unsatisfactory situation and aspire to something more. They both use their prior personal experiences with exploitation in order to reverse the situation. Their love stems from their ability to be completely spontaneous and innovative. They use each other’s qualities to get ahead until they encounter conflict, and their romance takes a hiatus, only to be rekindled once the deeper connection is realized.
If Sydney is Irving’s source of exhilaration, then his wife, Roselyn, is his source of resourcefulness and skill, as she shows him how to manipulate and exploit people with her passive-aggressive behavior. Jennifer Roselyn plays a perfect role as the ditsy, pampered housewife, but her importance in the movie cannot be overlooked. Through instances of dramatic irony, Roselyn helps move the plot along and develop the conflict. Her irrational behavior brings comedic relief to often tense situations, and often puts her husband in a bind, only to claim credit for a solution to a problem solved by sheer luck.
Perhaps the most insecure character of the movie is the one who is supposed to represent stability and authority. Agent Dimaso is a coked-out, thrill-seeking FBI agent, who works under a less enthusiastic supervisor (Louis C.K.). The tension that forms between the two seems to propel Dimaso to further heights. He is like a runaway locomotive, which will derail at any moment. He clings to his false sense of authority over Irving and Sydney, which eventually leads to his demise.
The only completely sympathetic character in American Hustle is Mayor Polito. His character embodies integrity, perseverance, love, and charity, yet he is the only character to face serious repercussions by the end of the film. Perhaps the underlining message is that “nice guys finish last”, as the only people who get hustled are the one’s who leave themselves vulnerable.
Although the humorous parts in the movie were done spectacularly, the dramatic scenes tended to be a bit dry and awkward. Perhaps future directors will reconsider doing close-ups of Amy Adam’s crying in the future. There are few movies that are capable of giving the viewer a physiological reaction, but this movie does just that. The film was so amusingly chaotic and absurd at times that I envied its free-spirited nature. American Hustle mirrors Machiavelli’s philosophy that “the end justifies the means”, as the film references a skewed interpretation of the “American dream”. The film even hints at the idea that there is no stereotypical “American dream”, and the only way to get ahead is the more sinister “American hustle”. A good plot and great characters make an entertaining film, which American Hustle was.