The plot twist-y con artist film is the latest movie genre director David O. Russell is taking on with "American Hustle," after breathing fresh air into the boxer flick with 2010's "The Fighter" and subverting the rom-com with 2012's "Silver Linings Playbook." Like Russell's last two films, "American Hustle" is about redemption and reinvention, as a con artist (Christian Bale) and his mistress (Amy Adams) get pulled into an operation with a cocky FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) to ensnare a corrupt politician (Jeremy Renner). Jennifer Lawrence also shows up to play Bale's meddlesome wife.
Russell sat down with U.S. News to discuss how the film came together. Here's what to know:
1. Russell is more concerned with his film's characters than its events
"American Hustle" is loosely based on the 1978 Abscam operation – "Some of this actually happened" it cautions. According to Russell, many of the film's stranger twists were the ones actually pulled from history. (Time has a spoiler-filled breakdown of "American Hustle" fact vs. fiction). But the director says when writing the film (which he adapted from a script by Eric Warren Singer), Russell was more focused on the film's personalities rather than its procedural elements.
"I'm always looking for great characters who are in a doozy of a predicament," Russell says. "What I love to do in cinema which is live with the characters, see them in all their range of emotion and heartbreak and the kind of humanness that is interesting to me and amazing and riveting to me. But if you don't have a great predicament that has big themes, you can't really do that. They're not just falling off trees all these characters."
2. The actors and actress in "American Hustle" were very involved in creating their roles
Russell was working on the "American Hustle" script, he had his ensemble cast – most of whom Russell has worked with before – in mind and they were very involved in helping Russell create their characters. Russell says much of his direction resulted from a series of one-on-one conversations he had with his actors offset. "That interestingly is where a lot of the trust and creative sharing of the vision is. You want to share an excitement, you want to find a an excitement that you both get," Russell says.
"You start with Christian in his back yard, talking about larger themes on how someone creates [a new identity] – what he does as an actor," Russell says of Bale, who plays the film's star con artist Irving.
Lawrence helped inspire her character's resistance to divorce and how it fits in with her larger fear of change. When Russell learned that Jeremy Renner was an avid home renovator, it helped inform his character's desire to build up his town.
"I try to pick up as much as I can about the person ," Russell says. "I just try to make it as personal as I can with each character and I want them to feel how personal it is to me."
3. Russell believes in passion over cynicism
"American Hustle" started as a script titled "American Bullshit" and it was much darker. But when Russell signed on he used the working title "Dreamers" and he sincerely believes in his characters – particularly in the love between Irving and his mistress Sydney, played by Amy Adams. "I do believe that being in love is magical and gives you a power that's sort of transcendent," Russell says. "I saw everybody trying to live some passionate dream."
4. "American Hustle" has something to do with Russell's love of "The Music Man"
The first movie Russell saw in theaters as a child was "The Music Man" – about a scam artist who poses as a music instructor to swindle a small town — which may explain why "American Hustle" treats its cons so sympathetically. "That guy was a fake, but he was also not a fake, that was what that movie was about." Russell says. "You can't inspire other people to project their dreams with you if you don't have magic, just like 'The Music Man.'"