American Hustle (2013)
Before I start my review for David O Russell’s latest story I have a fairly cynical comment to make that some people might disagree with but I think is important to mention. American Hustle isn’t an Oscar movie, in fact it’s not really good enough for the Golden Globes either. While Russell has received endless praise over the last 3 years for his trifecta of films The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and Hustle itself I have trouble comprehending why. The Fighter is a terrific film don’t get me wrong but its real charm is in its top notch, emotionally raw performances. Silver Linings Playbook is a glorified romantic comedy, a good one with some interesting but not fully developed comments about mental illness, but a rom com none the less. Hustle is Russells worst out of the three, a crime caper with no real crimes, no real story worth discussing. Russell has managed to wrangle together a cast of top notch performers for a sub par tale of deception and delusion making it hard to comprehend why Hustle is on its way to the Oscars, it just doesn’t deserve it. It may be because Russell is loved in the industry or the fact that his films are distributed under the Weinstein banner, a company known for long protracted awards campaigns but I still don’t understand. Maybe someone can help me understand in the comments.
Now that thats out of the way, here is my review.
American Hustle (2014)
Directed by David O Russell, Written by Eric Singer and David O Russell
Starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner
Much like Silver Linings Playbook, Russell’s previous feature, American Hustle has an excellent script to work with, one that makes it’s characters sparkle with moments of realism and naturalistic actions. However it also writes its many characters into a corner as it doesn’t so much encourage change or evolution for its players, it traps them in the films plot as they search for a way out, one that provides very little catharsis or interest from the viewer. While this wouldn’t be a problem if these characters were likable but Russell and Singer take great pleasure in crafting some morally reprehensible people whom you are forced to follow throughout. Be it Bradley Cooper’s irritatingly smug FBI agent or Amy Adams’ hypocritical con artist, each character is out for himself in one way or another and it’s painful to watch their machiavellian maneuvers.
The film tells the ‘fictionalization’ of the Abscam case that brought about the arrests of several US Senators and other public officials. However Hustle uses this template to pain a tale of selfish people carrying out horrific acts for purely selfish reasons. The film follows con man Irving (Christian Bale) and his partner Sydney (Amy Adams) as they are caught by FBI agent DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) and forced to help him set up an undercover operation designed to catch corrupt officials. Along the way DiMaso’s scheme becomes one of ambition and self adulation as Irving must find a way to get himself out with Sydney for the sake of her and his manipulative wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).
It’s hard to find fault with almost all of the performers in the film especially considering it features some of Jeremy Renner’s best work in quite some time but Amy Adams’ infuriating Sydney is a role that doesn’t suit her and it shows. She flip flops from emotionally unstable to lovingly endearing with no real understanding of why she is doing it. Considering the fact that she is Bale’s main foil in the film it creates some unfortunately painful scenes.
The film prides itself on its semi true story, stating at the beginning of the film that ‘some of this really happened’ and Russell understands the complexities of the case and the fine line between fine police work and entrapment but when your depiction of policing is the self destructive Richie its hard to see anything but entrapment, something Russell seems to want the audience to envision despite the more clear cut nature of the real Abscam case. Russell manipulates the facts to his will in a way that nullifies the films opening statement and without that link the film is just another con movie, one with beautiful dialogue, plenty of good actors but no heart, much like many of the films unpleasant characters.
Overall Rating: 4/10
What did you think of American Hustle, did you enjoy it more than I did or did you have trouble getting behind the films leads? Let me know in the comments.