With the very opening scene, in which a balding, middle-aged man named Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) perfects an elaborate hairpiece-and-combover arrangement, American Hustle eloquently announces itself as a film about false appearances, vanity and cons.
It has one of those thrilling, tricksy, keep-you-guessing narratives that you find in slick crime capers such as Ocean’s Eleven or David Mamet’s House of Games. But perhaps its best trick is that it squeezes so much real human drama and astute psychology into a work that brims with glitz and dazzle and cinematic showmanship; hilarious disco-era fashion statements and great music. It’s something like Casino, Martin Scorsese’s bravura follow-up to Goodfellas, successfully remade as a hugely enjoyable mainstream comedy.
It’s a fictionalised account of a real-life late-Seventies corruption scandal, told from the points of view of two con artists, Rosenfeld and his partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), and the FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who coerces them into devising a fake-sheikh sting operation with which to ensnare politicians and mobsters. It’s about the willing deceptions upon which so many personal, social, business and political relationships are equally founded; about how we see the things in ourselves and in other people that we want to; and how, as a result, good people are able to justify doing bad things. In fact, it’s secretly a far more depressing film than it would appear.