The films of Scorsese cast a long shadow. Should a movie find itself set in a specific era, in a certain geographic location, with a particular set of story-telling devices (in this case, multiple narrators and a pitch perfect soundtrack), set against a crime-ridden backdrop, then no matter how hard you try, Scorsese is going to come to mind. Though writer/director David O. Russell may not have purposefully set out to mimic Marty, Christian Bale’s character aptly brings such thoughts to mind by saying: “Who is the real genius, the artist or the forger?” American Hustle may be lacking somewhat in originality, but it more than makes up for it elsewhere.
The complex but never confusing plot involves Christian Bale and Amy Adams as a duo of con-artists, who get nabbed by Bradley Cooper’s FBI agent and given an ultimatum: either help him capture a crooked mayor (Jeremy Renner), or go to jail for their crimes. So they go about helping the Feds, but soon realise that they’re in WAY over their heads once well-known politicians and powerful mobsters get involved. Then there’s the small matter that Adams may or may not be falling for Cooper, and Bale’s loose-cannon wife (Jennifer Lawrence) could bring down their very delicate house of cards at any moment.
The script is sharp and surprisingly very funny, with everyone given a real moment to shine. It's great watching Bale, Adams, Cooper and Lawrence all go at it, playing out exactly what happens when you put four Alpha personalities in the same room, with nobody being able to commit to anyone being in charge. Renner isn’t given a lot to do, and his character feels a tad undercooked, but we do get some nice supporting roles from the likes of the hilarious Louis C.K. and Robert De Niro at his most impressively menacing.
The story, loosely based on real events, is smartly and energetically told, with the only sticking point being a somewhat underwhelming ending that you’ll see coming before the characters involved do. Right up until that point, American Hustle is pure entertainment. If only all Scorsese imitations were this good.