American Hustle is the new film written and directed by David O. Russell (The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook) where he takes his favorite actors and places them in a long con game where everyone who plays could lose everything. A con man, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), along with his amateur grafter girlfriend Sydney (Amy Adams), are recruited and forced to work for an FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who pushes them into a dangerous world of New Jersey powerbrokers who have mafia ties, eventually involving a small town mayor, Carmine (Jeremy Renner). Suddenly, everyone has their own agenda, leaving Irving’s lonely crazy wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), the only person who can screw everything up and get them all killed, all leading them to wonder who’s conning who and who will be left holding the bag.
What should have been an intriguing story about con artists who are caught and forced to work with the FBI to “catch the bigger fish” really ends up being a dull story you’ve seen before and done better than this. With other David O. Russell films, like Three Kings, The Fighter, and Playbook, you expect nothing but amazement. But other than a stellar cast full of Oscar winners and nominees, this becomes just another standard con artist flick with no twist or turns. Everything is right there at face value, leaving you nothing to think on other than how good the acting was. American Hustle is nothing new. It’s as if Russell just wanted to make his version of Goodfellas meets Ocean’s 11 with a little Casino. Honestly, the audience deserves and expects better.
The positive of the movie, as stated, is how good the actors are. If you love good acting or want to be an actor, then this is a movie you should study. Everyone is at the top of their game, you can’t wait to see how they act or what they say next. Christian Bale and Amy Adams are amazing to watch. Everything they do is with purpose while looking 1970’s amazing. Bale doing his severe weight gain thing, yet again, adding so much to his character. Plenty of great choices are being done here from them.
As is Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner. Who both play these wise-talking New Jersey guys. Neither one of them is over the top like a Sopranos episode, they feel real and come off as guys that grew up on the streets. They are both trying to be good people, but everyone around them is corrupt, making their lives more difficult. Cooper’s character wants to be the best so bad that he gets blinded by the lights and fame that becomes his worst enemy, not even seeing how many people he’s hurting along the way. Renner’s mayor character wants to help so bad that he’s willing to do anything, but he doesn’t realizing doing anything always come with a price.
Who manages to steal the movie though is Jennifer Lawrence. She bursts onto the screen being bigger than life and demands you watch and listen to everything she’s saying. She is a low-class housewife/mom who would rather be out dancing and drinking than attempting to be a parent. At one point in the movie, everyone is scared to approach a bar full of mafia types, while she just kicks up her heels, grabs her “lady-balls” and walks on over with no fear, which of course freaks everyone out but her. She only has one big scene with Amy Adams, but it is one of the best. Two powerhouse actresses fighting over who loves Irving more makes for one of the best scenes in the movie.
Cinematographer Linus Sandgren, who manages to capture the beauty and grossness of 1970’s New Jersey, shoots the movie beautifully. The technical side of this film is flawless: the look, the costumes, and the period sets. It really does feel like you stepped back into a time of leisure suits, sideburns, and a lot of disco sparkle. And adding that little top off to the era is the amazing soundtrack featuring Elton John, ELO, Donna Summer, and the Bee Gees.
It’s such a shock that the movie just ends up being so boring. It has all the right pieces to the puzzle, but a puzzle that under the lights just doesn’t work as well as it ought too. The movie falls under its own weight of clichéd troupes and inspirations already done by better movies. Such a shame too, this has so much Oscar appeal and buzz around it that you can practically feel it. So other than looking great and having incredible acting, what’s left? Not much really.