American Hustle Reviews
This guy Russell is practically our only decent response to supposed better quality Brit films and I'm liking him.
"American Hustle" has a strong premise: two con artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) are forced by the FBI (led by Bradley Cooper) to participate in a sting operation to nab corrupt politicians.
But the execution is off. By injecting some eccentric comedic pieces into the plot, it lowers the stakes "Hustle" has set up for itself. By the time a menacing cameo from Robert De Niro shows up, you don't know if the film wants you to be amused or wants you to be tense.
Either way because it is never clear what kind of film "Hustle" wants to be you find your mind wandering as the game actors keep showing up in over-the-top 70s garb and hair and throw out their lines with gusto. It feels like a costume party with some amusing attendees but you find yourself in the corner nursing a drink waiting for something to happen.
Disappointing but ultimately saved by the acting and the 70s visuals.
A bit of context. This was the next film I saw after seeing Inside Llewyn Davis. For more info about why that is significant, see my review for that film. A few days after seeing that film, my girlfriend and I began a period of separation from one another so we could each analyze the state and also the fate of our relationship. A few days after the separation began, a close friend and I went to see this movie, and it was just what I needed.
This is a gloriously stylish, uplifting, and fun character driven caper movie very loosely based on the FBI's ABSCAM sting operation of the late 1970's/early 1980s.
The film follows con artists Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser as they get tapped by FBI agent Richie DiMaso to help bring down a host of corrupt politicians, including the mayor of Camden, New Jersey- Carmine Polito.
Their efforts are met with complications, including interference from Irving's unpredictable wife Rosalyn, Irving's growing relationship with Carmine, Richie's testy dealings with his superiors, and a bunch of tensions between Sydney, Richie, Irving, and Rosalyn.
While the film is loosely about historical events, it is more concerned about the characters, and themes of loyal, deception, and power than the plot, which is largely there as a backdrop. For some, this might be disappointing, as the ABSCAM sting operation is a fascinating story in its own right, and sure, deserves to be given a proper film treatment, but I don't think that matters. Normally the historian in me would be getting really critical, but honestly, this is a case when I don't care. I love these characters, and yeah, though the film plays fast and loose with history, maybe that will inspire people to get out and do some researching for themselves. That is something I can endorse.
Even though this is a David O. Russell film, one can sense that he's really channeling 70s era Scorsese, as well as taking a huge helping of influence from Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights.
No, this film isn't as great as that one, and, no, I don't think it's a negative thing to make the Scorsese comparison. I mean those things in a positive way because I can't fault Russell for his ambitiousness, especially when he channels stuff like what I just mentioned.
The soundtrack is excellent, there's some fantastic cinematography and editing, and the period details, costumes, hair, and makeup are absolutely spectacular. Yeah, some of the pacing is a bit off, and the story is a bit murky (especially with the time frame), but in the grand scheme of things, I can overlook all this since the rest of it is so great, which brings me to the best part: the cast and their performances.
Unbelievable. We get one hell of a lineup with Christian Bale as Irving, Amy Adams as Sydney, Bradley Cooper as Richie, Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn, and Jeremy Renner as Carmine. Louis C.K. plays one of Richie's superiors, and Michael Pena is, some would say, criminally underused as a fellow FBI agent. I felt that Pena was in for an okay amount of time (given the role), and loved Louis in his particular part. There's also a killer cameo, but unlike some, I won't spoil it. I will say though, that this is one of the better and more appropriate roles this person has had in a good long while.
Bale is great, and really sells the mother of all combovers. Cooper is a hoot with that perm, and Adams rocks those low (and I mean LOW) cut dresses like nobody else. I will say that I think that Rosalyn might have been a part more suitable for someone about 10 years older than Lawrence, but she has a lot of fun with it, even if the Jersey housewife accent slips in and out on occasion.
This is a fun movie, and it also leaves you with something to think about,. Sure, it's flawed, and perhaps even overrated. I loved the crap out of it though, and think that, even with the flaws, it's still a dynamite piece of work. I'm biased, but I at least admit it and explain my reasons.
Even if this film doesn't quite connect with you like it does with me, I still strongly recommend it. It's funny (a lot), dramatic (at times), and, above all, constantly entertaining.
I mean Lawrence's hysterical performance is perfect, Bale's strained and complex relationship with her, Adams struggle between what is real and what isn't... Everything is written and acted with such finesse that none of the characters ever feel like a stereotype due to their varying complexities. To do all this character work AND have it come together with a cohesive, satisfying plot was really the icing on top.
If anything, the film just lacked accessibility. It's hard to root for anyone when you pass judgement on their inherent flaws and if you don't get the nuanced humor everything can seem quite dreary. A little more edge in direction style could have also helped the relatively mundane setting/genre that AH is pigeonholed in.
Going into American Hustle without knowing that it's the favorite to win Best Picture is impossible, and as I watched it, I waited for the moment when the film would rise to a substantive height, something beyond a coolly orchestrated con flick a la The Grifters or even the more shallow Matchstick Men, but I waited in vain. There's nothing uniquely American about the hustle or the characters, and there's nothing profound embedded in the film's plot. It's a fun caper film with good performances by the whole cast -- good, not great, not soaring, not Academy-Award-worthy. It's an enjoyable diversion, a fun time at the movies. In a word, it's overrated. The ending is predictable, the scenes are enjoyable, and the acting is solid.
But overall, this is a fine film but nothing more.