There is a scene in David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” where Jennifer Lawrence’s character is making small talk with her husband’s friends about her top coat nail polish. She explains her obsession; it is both super-sweet smelling but that just underneath that layer of sweetness is something distinctly sour. She then proceeds to have everyone at the table take a whiff. Similarly, the people at that table and, indeed, everyone else that pops up throughout the brisk 2 hour running time of “American Hustle” has those traits. We love these people. We are rooting for them despite the fact they spend most of their time conning, swindling, lying and selling out. Russell’s robust comedy about good old fashioned American reinvention and the art of the con does not really focus too much on where it’s going but, rather, revels in the ride. There is a prevailing sense of desperation that drives most of these characters. They are always, on some level, not being genuine or real. They live fake lives and our three main characters (Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and an especially excellent Amy Adams) find themselves at a crossroads of wanting to shed their gift to dissimulate and perhaps do what normal people do.
Like the characters, the film itself plays us. Early on, Bale’s character warns “People believe what they want to believe” and that truism reveals itself to the character and us the audience. David O. Russell is not exactly himself either as he intentionally or unintentionally apes Scorsese’s visceral camera playbook and slow motion/70’s soundtrack flourishes but I found it all irresistible. Thankfully, Russell’s uncanny ability to always find a natural form of chaos with an ensemble cast is present; so many scenes crackle with the kind of energy that is sadly lacking from American cinema today. Highly Recommended.