Review by Alec R. Lee
Sharp comedy-drama with a sharp director and a sharp cast. What could go wrong?David O. Russell’s newest flick, American Hustle, can be seen as more of a collection of David O. Russell “moments.” I’ll explain what I mean by that. You have a dramatic story with comedic elements in it (Silver Linings Playbook, Three Kings) combined with a cast of Russell alumns (Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradly Cooper, and Amy Adams). What we get out of this combination is something along the lines of a “safe” movie. A movie that tells a good story, but takes no risks in its approach. The directing on American Hustle is as tight as ever. Russell (between verbally abusing cast members or assaulting them) does have a genuine eye for ensemble stories and every major actor gets a slice of the polished script. An interesting fact about this film is that most of the character dialog was improvised, which adds to the realism of the film. With all of these points going in the film’s favor, the only problem is that it’s not as interesting as it sounds.
Christian Bale is a con artist in New York City. He makes a living with his business associate (Amy Adams) whom he loves but is married to his control freak of a wife (Jennifer Lawrence) whom he cannot divorce because he is afraid he will lose custody of his son. When Bale and Adams get pinched in a sting, they are given an offer by the FBI to help them catch other con artists in exchange for them to drop the charges. Thus, Bale ends up involved in a federal operation to entrap a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner) which leads to creating a huge scam involving Arab sheikhs and Italian mobsters. Bale ends up regretting his position in the affair and works to get himself out of the mess that he was left in. The plot on the whole is fairly predictable (not going to spoil anything, don’t worry) but the ending was a definite point of interest. But the whole time, the situation could have exploded in our protagonists’ faces and it doesn’t. It ripples and threatens to blow in a few occasions but for the most part goes very smoothly. I never felt any tension at all during this film and with such high stakes on the line, this should have been something that was required. It was a good story, but needed a bit more oomph to it.
The cast was the main reason I went to see this film. I am a huge Christian Bale fan and this is one of his famous “weight changing” roles that he does to get in character. He does an admirable job portraying a con man that you start to believe that, with his complex comb over and his huge gut, that he is a real life con man. Amy Adams portrays Bale’s lover and speaks in a British accent for most of the movie. The accent is supposed to be fake, so you can forget about complaining about how bad her accent is, it’s supposed to sound like that. I swear, she walks around most of this movie in extremely revealing low cut shirts doesn’t even bother to wear a bra (and thank you, God). In the important conversations in this film, no one is going to be looking at her face (not sure if that’s a detriment to the film through, hmmmm.) Bradly Cooper and Jeremy Renner are solid in their roles, but there was one issue about Renner’s character that bugged me. All the while the FBI is looking to entrap his character when in reality he did not do anything illegal. Renner is the means to the end to provide the names of corrupted officials to the feds. Actually, his character seemed like a really decent man and I was disappointed that the grand scheme of the film was to finger him for illegal misdeeds. I am also a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence in any film she’s in. She’s great in American Hustle, but I really do think that she was miscast. Lawrence is supposed to be Christian Bale’s wife and the fact that she is dressed up to look somewhere in her 30s was terrible distracting to me. She still looked like a woman in her mid 20s, a woman too young for Christian Bale, which kept taking me out of the film when she’s on screen. For fans of Louis CK, he has a good sized role in the film (a funny one, too) and Robert De Niro makes a cameo in the film as a mob hitman. I don’t think any of the actors here are going to win any large awards but none of them deserve any critical bashing, that much I am certain of.
American Hustle is one of those rarer films that I don’t agree with the majority of critics on. I did feel that I enjoyed the film, for the most part, but then there were times when the story just wasn’t up to snuff or was boring, or was even morally questionable. For fans of movies set around 70s crime movies, this is a film that you will enjoy, no questions asked. If you are used to the Scorsese type of crime film where excess and insanity are plentiful, I’d wait until The Wolf of Wall Street comes out but overall, it’s a film that will please a majority of the crowd, a safe bet.
Final Score: 75/100