Sydney Prosser: My dream, more than anything, was to become anyone else other than who I was.
You’ve heard the expression, “Who’s conning who?” Well, AMERICAN HUSTLE, the latest film by David O. Russell (SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, THE FIGHTER), essentially embodies this expression on film. Everyone in this seamless and stylish movie is conning everyone else, but more importantly, also conning themselves in the process. One thing is for certain though, Russell is the real deal. He’s working damn hard to get the audience to buy what he’s selling but he’s making it look damn easy at the same time. To top it off, what he’s selling as of late are some of the best films of his still young career.
Set in late 1970’s New York City and New Jersey, AMERICAN HUSTLE is so smooth that it sometimes feels like a dream when watching it, one of those amazing dreams that you never want to wake up from. One of the reasons for this is this dream cast. Russell reunites with an ensemble composed mostly of actors he’s worked with before and continues to push them in directions we’ve never seen from them before. Christian Bale is Irving Rosenfeld; we meet Irving as he is diligently arranging his combover. He then meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) at a party. Her dress can barely contain her bosom and his gut is hanging out over his shorts. Something about them just clicks, as if no one before this has ever understood them fully. This is where the trick begins because neither one really knows who they are anymore. They just know that this chance meeting at a party will forever change their already ever-changing lives. Life has given them another shot at the prize and they intend to go after it, no matter what the cost.
The cost is where it only further gets complicated. Between Bradley Cooper’s Richie DiMaso getting between Irving and Sydney, and Jennifer Lawrence’s Rosalyn Rosenfeld making life difficulty for Irving at home, Irving and Sydney have their plates very full as they try to pull off a giant con on a New Jersey mayor, played by Jeremy Renner. It is actually far more complicated than that but revealing any more would take all the fun out of the film. To successfully pull off this con, each player needs to con everyone else around them and they do so to the point where they don’t even realize how much they are fooling themselves. They are all chasing after their own agendas, their own dreams, but they are all losing themselves in the process. This presentation positions the title of the film as a counterpoint to the American dream, as if to suggest that going after that golden carrot is only doable if you hustle hard to get there.
AMERICAN HUSTLE, co-written by Eric Singer (THE INTERNATIONAL), shifts in time and perspective to reveal more and more elements of this complicated story in its own time. The audience gets bits and pieces here and there but is ultimately kept guessing throughout the film, which is just enthralling. You won’t know who to trust or who to root for because none of it is real and all of it is selfishly motivated. In any con, there are always loose ends that threaten to unravel the entire operation though and those loose ends here are the truth. That truth here is always waiting just outside the world they’ve all created in their minds; it’s even within reach if they would just open their eyes to their own lies. Russell never lets this complex tale of deception come apart though, which is a great testament to the man’s vast vision and talent. Simply put, his hustle is what the real American dream is all about.