Speaking of his co-stars, they're all uniformly excellent. Bradley Cooper finally lays to rest the notion that he's nothing but that jackass character from the Hangover movies. Following on the heels of his success with Silver Linings Playbook (also directed by Russell), his performance as the self-serving FBI agent in American Hustle proves he's just as adept at playing an outstanding jackass in much better films. Jeremy Renner is great as the well-meaning, but ill-advised Mayor of Camden, New Jersey. Unfortunately, in a movie overflowing with marquee names, his performance is likely to go mostly unappreciated. And rounding out the men, Louis C. K. shows up in a small, but rather nice role as Cooper's much put-upon superior at the agency.
But it's the ladies who really shine nearly as bright as Bale. Amy Adams is likely to get a little Oscar buzz with her turn as Irving's soul-mate Sydney, the only person with whom he is completely honest with throughout the whole movie. She's also the only person capable of scamming Irving, and Adams plays the dichotomy deftly, with the audience never knowing until the very end just where her loyalties lie.
Joining her in the Oscar pool will be Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Irving's wife, Rosalyn. Besides Irving, Rosalyn is probably the most complex character in the film – the queen mother of all passive-aggressive manipulators who never makes a single movement or expression unless it's to get something she wants. She has no real love for Irving but needs him to survive, and so she mercilessly uses her young son, whom Irving truly does love, to keep him trapped in the relationship. On top of all that, she's possibly insane, prone to crazed outbursts. I usually don't enjoy those moments in non-musical movies when a character spontaneously erupts into song, but Lawrence makes it work, and it's one of the moments in the film which will likely garner her yet another nomination.
Now I haven't quite seen all of this year's potential Oscar fodder, but it's unlikely there's another film out there with so many likely (and deservedly so) acting nominees crammed together in one place. Everyone in American Hustle is good, with Bale in particular giving the performance of his career. It's tempting to follow Sen. Pressler's lead and bemoan the fact that the characters being portrayed aren't better people, but then I stop and think about the Bible. Barring a couple of notable exceptions, it's not exactly overflowing with stories about perfect people. The chronicles of King David's family alone are full of murder, incest, murder, rape, treason, and murder. And yet as we read about all these bumblers, so very much like ourselves, we can see God's grace at work and recognize the possibility for redemption.
And to some degree, we get that in American Hustle as well. As events spiral out of Irving's control and doom seems unavoidable, there is the smallest chance he can make it out okay on the other side and go clean. Not unscathed, of course – you don't do what Irving does for a living and not suffer some consequences. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel if he can get there – if only Agent DiMaso will let him go free once the deal is done; if only Sydney is really on his side and not running a scam of her own; if only Rosalyn doesn't flip out at the wrong moment and get everyone killed. How does it all turn out? Well, you'll just have to watch it to find out. And if for nothing but the performances alone, American Hustle is definitely worth watching.