American Hustle written by Eric Singer and David O. Russell, directed by David O. Russell (Atlas Entertainment, Annapurna Pictures, R, 138 min)

Starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence.

The Long Con

There are days when I feel as if life is a long con. Sometimes it seems like our actions and the ways we relate to each other reflect some sort of cosmic joke. When you think about it, life is a little absurd. We function; create value in society; find love and connect to each other in marriage. How did this complicated puzzle come together? Is it possible that the other shoe might drop?

David O. Russell’s American Hustle delights in the absurdity of life and illustrates the many ways in which humans con each other.

The Deeper the Con, The More Difficult the Result

American Hustle tells the story of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his increasingly complicated con. An owner of multiple dry cleaners and a dabbler in sales of recherché but forged art, Irving becomes entangled in a much deeper game after he meets stripper Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) at a party.

The two learn they are pretty good at embezzling money, it would seem. Sydney would love to run away with Irving. Despite Irving’s desires to comply, he feels held down by his wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and his adopted son.

Despite early successes in the con industry, undercover FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) catches the pair red-handed.

To escape jail time, Irving and Sydney must cooperate with Richie to catch “bigger” fish on the East Coast.

Soon after, Irving learns through an associate about the shady dealings of a New Jersey politician named Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). Despite Irving’s reservations (his work philosophy involves always working from the ground up), Irving must submit to Richie’s grand visions of taking down a major bureaucrat.

As the story unfolds, the viewer never ascertains much certainty about who’s conning whom, who holds moral superiority as a protagonist, and how the con actually works.

Sleight of Hand

In essence, director David O. Russell attempts to exhibit American Hustle as a con itself. The movie uses humor to illustrate how crazy life can be and how often we try to trick others to gain an advantage.

Russell constantly films the hands of his actors to unveil a sleight-of-hand aspect to these characters. Additionally, the over-the-top personality each actor portrays moves the viewer away from the narrative, allowing Russell to expand his con.

In short, American Hustle is entertaining and enjoyable, but I feel conned in the storyline. Perhaps and maybe even likely, this impact is Russell’s hope for the movie. But I can’t help but feel a little empty. American Hustle is deserving of its acclaim and I expect it might win a couple of awards in the coming months, but I have to say I hoped for more.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5

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