American Hustle is a movie about con men. It's also a movie about hair. The hair in the movie is its own character—or, well, characters. From Bradley Cooper's curls to Jennifer Lawrence's towering up-do, it's over-the-top and loud, sometimes distracting, and sometimes perfect, all part of this wacky late-'70s world David O. Russell created for the film. "It was such a wonderfully exuberant era, it was like Halloween for a decade," star Christian Bale said at recent press conference for the film.
To honor this hair, we created a ranking (worst, relatively speaking, to best) of its use in the film. Our criteria is not simply which is the best hair, because no one really wins here, it's what hair has the perfect combination of style, outlandishness, and meaningfulness to the character and the film as a whole.
15. Stoddard Thorsen (Louis C.K.)
While we love Louis C.K. in the film as the frustrated supervisor of Bradley Cooper's unruly FBI agent, his hair unfortunately ranks the lowest on this list for the simple reason that it's the same as Louis C.K.'s normal hair. Sorry, Louis. We need a transformation.
14. Pete Musane (Jack Huston)
Once again, this is essentially Jack Huston's hair, so it does not deserve the credit that other hair in this movie does. It only ranks higher than Louis C.K.'s hair because of the natural lusciousness of Huston's mane. (Also, we like that he keeps his Boardwalk Empire mustache for the role.)
13. Anthony Amado (Alessandro Nivola)
Amado is a sleazy prosecutor, and he ends up sporting a matchy-matchy slicked-back 'do. Standard sleazeball hair. Boring.
12. Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams): Straight/Wavy Hair
Don't get me wrong, Adams' has spectacular hair, but this is not her best look in this movie. It's lovely, but it's not her hair doing the work in these early scenes, it's her costumes. Take away the wrap dress and you could have Giselle from Enchanted.
11. Carl Elway (Shea Whigham)
Elway is one of those characters who comes and goes so quickly in this movie that you're not sure why he's there in the first place. But he has horrible hair. Horrible, wonderful hair. There's a stringy yellow mop on his head, accentuated in a ponytail. It isn't higher only because we can't figure out what the purpose of it is.
10. Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale): Chest Hair
Makeup department head Evelyne Noraz told The Cut that Bale asked for more chest hair. The problem is that the chest hair issue neither here nor there. It's surely no match for whatever is on his head, nor is it a match for his protruding stomach. It was a good try, but it somehow feels lackluster. Don't ask us why. Explaining underwhelming chest hair is a fool's errand.
9. Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner)
Renner's New Jersey politician has a beautiful bouffant, but it just doesn't say as much about his character as some of the other hair in this film does. It is, however, marvelous.
8. Victor Tellegio (Robert De Niro)
De Niro's appearance in the film has (sort-of) been kept quiet, but his hair is worth talking about here. In a way, it's sort of anti-De Niro, who has somehow maintained a full head of hair even has he has entered the Last Vegas stage of his career. The weird baldness of threatening mobster Tellegio both shrinks De Niro, and somehow makes him more threatening. It is a feat.
7. Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper): Chest Hair
Now we're getting into the good stuff. Cooper's chest is a mix of sexy—sorry! had to be said!—and his character's trying-too-hard attitude. Praised be this chest hair.
6. Dolly Polito (Elisabeth Röhm)
A secondary character like Dolly, wife of Carmine, did not need to have such wonderful hair, but the skunk-y up-do affixed to the head of Elisabeth Röhm is such a treat. It's everything a Jersey housewife's hair should be, and yet Dolly is sweeter than that stereotype suggests. Maybe we're pushing it here, but her hair is is a metaphor for one of the movie's themes: sometimes the supposed crooks aren't the real crooks.
5. Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence): The Head Donut
Rosalyn's buttoned up hairdo, in which her blonde locks form a sort of cushion on top of her head, is obviously notable, but not the purest expression of her character. It's just a little too put together for this mess of a woman.
4. Sydney Prosser: Curlers
Sydney's oversized Curlers of Distress manage to make her look both good and slightly unhinged. It's transitional hair, but it's vital.
3. Tie: Rosalyn Rosenfeld: Unfurling Up-do and Sydney Prosser: Perm
Perhaps this is a cop-out, but we really had a hard time pitting these two wonderful dos against one another. They are just both so magnificent and work so well together. Rosalyn's hair, with its artful bits falling across her cheek, is working hard to be fancy; Sydney's crimping explosion is free, but it isn't her real hair. The wildness of Sydney's hair shows who she wants to be: unconstrained. The fact that it's so unnatural shows how she's trapped by her lack of identity.
2. Irving Rosenfeld: Combover
It's hard not to argue that this is the definitive hair of the movie. Russell loved it so much that he made the first scene of the movie all about it. But the attention to the combover is, in a way, a little forced. The combover is significant, make no doubt about that, but it's also aware of its importance, which is why it takes the second spot here.
1. Richie DiMaso: Curls
As with Irving's combover, the audience gets an insider's look at the process by which Richie achieves his tightly-wound curls, via a scene where he's all done up in curlers like your auntie. It's am important scene, because Richie's curls are the pinnacle of hair in the movie. They are flashy without being as ostentatious (as is the combover), but they contain multitudes. At a press conference last weekend, Cooper explained that, Russell came up with the idea that DiMaso would curl his own hair in an effort to look "different." Cooper explained: "He’s trying to be like these guys who he sort of thinks are these archetypes of men to him—like Dock Ellis, this baseball player who curls his hair." But Cooper also noted that Richie was also like a little kid. Curls speak to that too. The curls are all. Congratulations, curls.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.