Monday, 20 January 2014

American Hustle

American Hustle
David O. Russell // 2013 // 138 mins

American Hustle follows Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) a pair of talented con artists who are forced into helping off-beat FBI Agent Richie DeMaso (Bradley Cooper) orchestrate a series of busts that will bring down a number of the heavy hitters working the city. The trio manipulate do-good Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) and use him as a gateway into the dangerous world of powerbrokers and the mafia. Meanwhile the unexpected intervention of Irving's young, volatile wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) threatens to expose the scam and endanger everyone involved.

Director David O. Russell has rounded up a group of very talented actors, dressed them in unsightly outfits with oversized, ridiculous hairstyles and then let them run wild. In spite of a plot that holds plenty of promise Russell has created a film that instead primarily focuses on the quirky nature of this rag-tag bunch of eccentrics. Christian Bale has implied that much of the film was improvised, and it seems quite likely as the film possesses many scenes that feel unfocused and drawn-out. It's clear that everyone involved is having fun, but that energy doesn't always translate very well and it feels as though Russell is abstaining any responsibility and relying entirely on the abilities of his actors to steer the narrative.

The result of this is a mixed bag of uneven performances that can fluctuate from enjoyable to frustrating at any given point in the film. Bale is strong and convincing, but how much of that is down to his considerable physical transformation and detailed backstory is unclear. Adams is probably the most consistent of the bunch and creates an empowered, multi-faceted woman, managing to achieve all of this despite being ogled by a camera that stalks and salivates over her revealing outfits like a sex-starved teenage boy. Cooper and Lawrence receive the most eccentric 'showy' roles, but only to brief bouts of success. Lawrence is certainly entertaining but it feels as though she is merely playing an exaggerated and more unflattering facet of her successful public persona. Russell clearly wants to flaunt his new protege at every available opportunity as Rosalyn's appearances always play for the biggest laughs and often crudely distract from the main plot. The director does hold an ace in the hole though, with Jeremy Renner giving by far the films most engaging and affecting performance. Carmine Polito is the only character worth caring for in a group of people who are all out to hurt one another and save their own skin, Renner gives the film some much needed heart to balance out the sleaze and deceit, stealing the show come the films conclusion.  

American Hustle is a film that wants to emulate the heavy hitters of the crime drama, and particularly those of Scorsese, but which lacks the impeccable craftsmanship to do so. Sluggish pacing and uneven performances weigh down an interesting premise and results in a film that feels much longer than its already substantial runtime. It boasts a brilliant soundtrack and does feature some good work from some great actors, but in the end it all feels like a forced attempt at creating something that will be popular rather than creating something of worth.


  1. Great review! I seem to be the only person who really loved this film! I like what you say about it trying to be like Scorsese's great crime work but I think it was aware it was a little more tongue-in-cheek than that. Who are you rooting for at the award ceremonies?

    1. Thanks!, It definitely had all the components for a film I should have enjoyed but they didn't come together for me, and I was really disappointed. But can see exactly why others loved it.

      I still have to watch quite a few of the nominated films before I can decide who I want to win, I just don't want American Hustle to sweep up all of the awards. How about you?