It’s hard to decide who gives the best performance in American Hustle because each member of the cast brings uniqueness and depth to the story. The collection of con artists and the cops includes Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence, all delivering like the perfect storm of fantastic filmmaking.
Bale stars as Irving Rosenfeld, a long-time con man who hooks up with Sydney Prosser aka Lady Edith Greensly (Adams) in a loan scam operation. Soon, the duo are snagged by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) and must participate in a series of sting operations targeting corrupt politicians, including the good-intentioned Mayor Carmine Polito (Renner). DiMaso keeps upping the stakes, targeting even more powerful figures and putting pressure on his associates to comply. Twists and turns ensue and we’re left wondering who’s really conning whom.
Bale is completely enveloped in the role, from the terrible comb-over to the accent, and makes Irving both heroic and lovably sleazy at the same time. Cooper is a great nemesis for him, matching a false sense of morality with an arrogant desire to be a star in his career. His scenes with Louis C.K., who plays his long-suffering boss, are particularly funny. Adams has an innocence that makes Sydney truly dangerous. It’s easy to think she’s not in control, but never underestimate this professional hustler.
Still, it’s Jennifer Lawerence who steals practically every scene. As Irving’s unhappily wedded wife, Rosalyn, she’s a comedic force. She’s so committed to her character that we only see Rosalyn and her warped perception of the world, not an actress playing a role. A scene involving wild card Rosalyn approaching a menacing group of mobsters and shamelessly flirting with Boardwalk Empire’s Jack Houston is particularly well executed, but even smaller moments—like her tendency to accidentally set fires around the house—are amusing and completely believable. With such intricately planned out cons in the world, she’s a joy to watch because you know she could throw the whole thing into a tailspin.
With performances of this caliber and plot twists that venture outside of the cookie-cutter con story, American Hustle is a must-see, and a serious award contender. Don’t be surprised if director David O. Russell (of Silver Linings Playbook fame) gets another Oscar nod this year.