I need to put David O. Russell on my Christmas thank-you list. He’s given me great gifts for two years in a row now.
Last year’s “Silver Linings Playbook” was easily one of 2012’s best films, but it was also one of the most crowd-pleasing (and those don’t always overlap). It was hard to find anyone who saw it and didn’t fall in love with it.
This year’s “American Hustle” is a very different film in a lot of ways, yet it too fits in that overlap of the Venn diagram of “great” and “crowd-pleasing.” It’s one of the most purely entertaining films of the year.
“Hustle” opens with a suitably whimsical play on “Based on a True Story” with a title card that just reads “Some of this stuff actually happened,” a reference to being very loosely based on Abscam, a 1978-1980 FBI sting that led to the arrests of several prominent politicians.
Puffy New Jersey business/con man Irving Rosenfeld (method actor Christian Bale sporting an epic combover and gut) has found the perfect and alluring partner in Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). So alluring, in fact, that he falls in love with her, despite having a lovely (if volatile) wife at home (Jennifer Lawrence).
When Irving’s scams land him in hot water, an FBI agent in search of landing bigger fish (Bradley Cooper) recruits the pair to work undercover on a scheme that targets a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner) and more.
Russell’s ’70s caper nearly out-Scorseses Martin Scorsese — whose own entry “The Wolf of Wall Street” is out next week. “Hustle” is rollicking fun stuffed into ’70s wrapping paper.
The cast is collectively the year’s best. Bale does a great, greasy De Niro impression, and “Silver Linings” alum Cooper manages to outshine his white boy ’fro. Adams displays heartbreaking range, and it’s a shame she’s not getting much Best Actress buzz. America’s sweetheart Lawrence shows she’s not afraid to be kinda unlikable on screen. She may just land another Oscar.
This time of year is loaded with awards contenders. “Hustle” seems to be outhustling them all. It’s easily one of the year’s best.