"You specifically bought this science oven for me?"
The opening moments tell us all we need to know about Irving Rosenfeld. He quietly stands in front of a mirror adjusting his clothes and later his hair. He meticulously presses the few remaining follicles on the crown of his head, grabbing a container of spirit gum to adhere a hairpiece to cover the rest. Like the dead animal on his dome, Irv is a sham; he's a confidence man who owns a chain of laundromats, but makes his real money conning suckers out of paying $5000 for imaginary loans.
He partners with Sydney Prosser, a woman he meets at a friend's party. She's equally fake. She pretends to be a socialite, with a studied English accent and some incredibly plummeting necklines. (Her nom de plume, Lady Edith Greensly, is fantastic.) The two have a great (illegal) thing going, until Richie DiMaso walks into their office. DiMaso is an FBI agent and he succeeds in duping the dupers. Irv and Sydney are coerced into working for Richie, and his plans are extensive, hoping to ensnare the Mayor of Camden, NJ, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) in a similar scheme.
It's tough to figure out who the bad guys are; I'm not sure there really are some. Carmine seems like a nice guy. Sure, he's familiar with some mobsters, but who isn't in politics? The real winners are us, who get to witness the absolutely ridiculous wigs that every actor adorns.
I haven't been a fan of David O. Russell's work since he found critical love with 2010's THE FIGHTER. Since that point, he's seemed to only make films that strive for that adulation. I find that resolution boring. Russell does occasionally get great performances out of his actors. In THE FIGHTER, Christian Bale won the lion's share of the awards for his supporting role, and deservedly so. Never one to shy away from physical demands, Bale is very convincing as Irv, and in typical fashion, he loses himself in his character, putting on dozens of pounds.
Bradley Cooper plays Richie. He is cocksure in his actions, but like many characters in the film, not everything goes his way. I like Cooper a lot, but there's a discernible difference between his and Bale's levels. The best way to put it is, when I see Bradley Cooper onscreen, I see Bradley Cooper. Jennifer Lawrence joins the fun as Rosalyn, Irv's wife. She's certainly the most unhinged of the group, and that's saying a lot. Cooper and Lawrence starred in Russell's last film, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, which was dreadfully overrated. HUSTLE is an improvement but neither actor has found their footing in Russell's uneven ongoing vision.
Amy Adams on the other hand is outstanding. She's the best part of the ensemble by far. This performance, along with the one in HER assuredly showcase her range. In HER, she's delicate and insecure. In HUSTLE, however, it's the complete opposite. Sydney is the smartest of the group, moving the pieces on the chessboard confidently. She has feelings for Irv, which may be the only genuine thing involved. The important thing is that she's believable. It would be hard to say no to this woman.
"Some of this actually happened," precedes the film. It's a tongue-in-cheek way of keeping the allure of a true story while putting a fresh, personal spin on it. It completely failed to connect with me, though. The beginning scenes with Irv fixing his toupee is a flashback. After he gets everything in its place, he walks into a different room, meeting up with Sydney and Richie. The two males get into an argument before Richie musses Irv's do. This exhibition is supposed to cause conflict, making us care about seeing us get back to that point, but the only thing stressed is the importance of an overweight swindler's mane. The whole thing just seems phony.