"Some of this actually happened," says the opening of "American Hustle," co-writer/director David O. Russell's behind-the-scenes reinterpretation of the 1978 federal sting operation called Abscam.
Dry cleaning entrepreneur and grifter Irv Rosenfeld (paunchy Christian Bale acting underneath the autonomous entity that is his elaborate comb-over) and his mistress Sydney Prosser, using the nom de con Lady Edith Greensly (well-layered Amy Adams working '80s Nicole Kidman tousles), are caught in one of their schemes and therefore coerced into helping the FBI, spearheaded by go-getter Richie DiMaso (poodle-permed and -tempermental Bradley Cooper).
The trio ensnares national and regional politicians (Jeremy Renner as the pompadoured Camden, NJ, mayor), plus Mafioso (including Victor Tellegio, played by go-to mob boss Robert De Niro, also thinning on top) even as Irv juggles the demands of his dim-witted and accident-prone wife Rosalyn, the "Picasso of passive-aggressive karate" (Jennifer Lawrence, balancing a platinum pile of ringlets on her pate).
This film is interesting, but it's exhausting, more like a hairstyle exhibition set to an extended dance mix of period music, including an Arabic "Go Ask Alice," despite what the "Making of" featurette demurs. Russell says he appreciates this period of "enchantment and contradiction, after the sexual revolution but before AIDS." He wants his female characters to be as strong and complicated as the males despite lines like Irv's "never tell a woman the truth." Adams says that these people "are trying to be better, but are doing it wrong, epically" and Cooper likes his guy for being "unhinged, dangerous and volatile, yet childlike."
Russell's "emotional, personal and procedural stakes are high," and sincerely seems to be aiming to create "worlds he likes, with characters searching for something better, who find reckoning." But they shouldn't be obfuscated by coiffures. So that happened.
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