Special to The Chronicle
Special to The Chronicle

Dir. David O. Russell

Columbia Pictures

4.5/5 Stars

About five minutes into David O. Russell’s “American Hustle,” FBI agent Richard DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) grabs the toupee of con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), and yanks it a few times just to piss him off in one of the tensest film scenes of the year. Through exquisite acting and directing, “American Hustle” manages to pull viewers into even the most mundane moments. A scene as simple as that suddenly becomes a seemingly life-or-death situation. Therein lies the charm and magic of Russell’s homage and love letter to the 1980s era of con-men. By shining a spotlight on these strained situations, “American Hustle” becomes a film that is as surprisingly relatable as it is electrifying.

Many of these thrills come from the stellar cast. Amy Adams strolling down the street in era-appropriate attire as the sensual and deceitful Sydney Prosser, with Cooper and Bale swaggering and waddling, respectively, on either side of her, is a riveting scene in and of itself. Cooper returns with the subtle madness of his character in Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” making viewers feel that any straightforward moment could go awry in an instant. Jennifer Lawrence also takes on a similar role, always lending an element of uncertainty to her scenes and effortlessly becoming the center of attention. Bale, as an overweight, unreasonably confident and obsessively precise con man, plays a wonderful counterpart to Cooper. But, of all the cast, it is Adams who truly shines. Using a beautiful, edge-of-your-seat script to her advantage, Adams delivers on all levels. One minute she is an intelligent businesswoman and the next she is the vision of sexuality and lust.

David O. Russell has once again proven that he can deliver a film that, despite its length of over two hours, can consistently keep audiences engaged. Robert De Niro lends his talents to the cast as notorious gangster Victor Tellegio. Other actors, including Louis C.K., Michael Peña and Jeremy Renner, round out the stellar cast. It is hard to deftly manage so many supporting actors, but Russell easily pulls it off, even allowing the supporting cast to control some scenes.

“American Hustle” is a sure Oscar contender that will draw an audience for years to come. With “American Hustle,” Russell has somehow managed to distill the 80s, in its disco-club, brightly-colored glory, into one magnificent film.