Starring: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams
Genre: Crime/ Drama/ Comedy (apparently)
Con man Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) meets and falls in love with stripper and fellow jazz lover Sydney Prosser (Adams), despite being married and having a child with Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). Despite this the two of them indulge in both a passionate affair and even greater money making scams. However, after being caught by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) they are forced to assist him in a series of busts that involve bringing down political figures. One figure they attempt to bring down is passionate but slightly corrupt New Jersey mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). However, the lies grow deeper and the cons get more excessive and when they then involve mobsters and crime lords, they are find themselves in so deep that even master con man Rosenfield may not be able to con his way out of this one.
Maybe it is partly my own fault for believing notoriously unreliable marketing blurb, but I went to the cinema on New Year’s Day really looking forward to American Hustle. I am a fan of David O. Russell and loved all his previous films, he had established an impressive cast, and his film had received consistent five star reviews and ‘film of the year’ quotes (though perhaps a little premature considering it was released nationwide here on January 1st. However, nearly two and a half hours later I felt nothing else but extreme disappointment. Unfortunately this may inevitably lead to my review primarily focussing on what I felt were the bad things with American Hustle, but that bitter taste of disappointment does still linger on the tip of my tongue.
I need to state from the off that I no way think that American Hustle is a bad film, thankfully it is not another The Counsellor, but for me only above average. The main problem for me was that it truly was an effort to watch, when a film has ‘hustle’ in the title and is about cons, scams and all a bit of a caper, I expect it to be slick, fast paced and good fun. I however not only found American Hustle hard work to watch, but it is painfully overwritten, way too slow in pace and a good 30 minutes too long. I appreciate that David O. Russell wants to go for character development, as the relationships between these characters are integral to the plot at times, but there are so many scenes that just add nothing; they are slow, frustrating and often feel repetitive, at times making the plot come to a grinding halt and I was often thinking to myself “just get on with it.”
From Bradley Cooper’s perm to the use of music and the party scenes; David O Russell certainly captures the feeling of the 70s perfectly and we truly feel that we are there. There is certainly a hint of wannabe Scorsese about the whole thing (though truly a pale imitation of Marty’s best work), but overall there truly is something lacking. The exact details of some of the scams are often sidelined for focussing on the issues of the characters, which firstly makes the title more than a little misleading, but also these are predominantly morally bankrupt characters that it is often hard to care about. Only Bale and Renner for me are characters written with enough depth for us to find something to like about them.
Bale himself gives a more restrained performance (except the big gut and comb over) by his standards, but his protagonist is all the better for it. Bale is a fantastic screen presence throughout, out acting everyone around him, and his performance is the only thing about American Hustle that deserves any award nominations. His character has enough of an arc to justify us rooting for him throughout and Renner’s unfortunate mayor is filled with good intentions and it is impossible not to feel sorry for him. The rest of the cast for me do not fare so well; Bradley Cooper appears out of his depth and often overacts to make up for it providing an incredibly irritating character who infuriates whenever he is speaking, despite decent performances I just felt Adams and Lawrence’s characters demonstrated all the flaws of good characters but without any of the redeeming features. It is also worth mentioning that Louis C.K. is mildly amusing as Bradley Cooper’s rather odd boss who is unbelievably easy to bully in what is obviously a comic relief role.
Ah yes, that brings me to another subject, the apparent comedy. Marketed everywhere as a comedy, but American Hustle just contains very little humour and actually takes itself way too seriously. I understand that it may have gone for subtle humour, but it was quite a busy cinema and there were no laughs, as well as people often nipping to the loo and leaving with disappointed looks (so it is not just me!). Comedy and a tongue in cheek tone to the proceedings not only makes the whole viewing experience more enjoyable but makes increasingly ridiculous schemes that more forgivable. I found the entire tone a little misjudged as when our protagonists find themselves involved with a dangerous mob boss (Robert Di Niro in a pointless cameo) the smug tone almost undermines the severity of the situation. Our protagonist’s lives are now genuinely at risk, but yet everything is apparently fun so that doesn’t matter!
As the plot develops there are of course some extremely well made individual scenes and the final pay off is well written, quite satisfying in its own way and a little surprising. However, when it has taken so much effort to get there, it is only just enough. I would not recommend seeing American Hustle at the cinema; I would say this is just a one off viewing in the comfort of your own home.
Though American Hustle certainly has its moments, overall it is smug, overwritten, often quite boring and at times a real effort to watch. Recent successes may have meant that David O .Russell has lost focus and dropped the ball with this one, and he has perhaps pulled of the biggest hustle of all by fooling people into believing he has made a five star film.