Directed by: David O. Russell Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence Running Time: 2 hrs 18 mins Rating: R Release Date: December 20, 2013
PLOT: An FBI agent (Cooper) recruits a conning couple (Bale & Adams) to help take down dirty politicians and the mafia.
WHO'S IT FOR? If the presence of anyone in this lead cast intrigues you, American Hustle is definitely worth a look.
A who's who of David O. Russell performers from his past two films Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, (with an exception of Jeremy Renner), American Hustle is a film driven by such performers who are game for the unorthodox shenanigans he often gravitates to. In fact, the film is more about its performances than its characters, which isn't entirely a good thing. It's good for the ability to enjoy the experience of the movie — the giddiness of watching these actors all in the same room with equally great hairdos from a different era gives the party that is American Hustle a strong replay value. But this film is a special moment like A-list celebrity volleyball games, complete with Jennifer Lawrence aggressively cleaning her living space to Wings' "Live and Let Die," or an incredible batch of scenes with Bradley Cooper antagonizing a famous comedian. It's going to make a lot of gifs, in which Cooper will be assuming a more immediate lead role.
But once one attempts to dig under the recognizable actors in these playfully unrecognizable characters, there is a comparatively less amount of richness to be found. While we can be thankful that American Hustle places these characters into unique relationships with one another, they are heavily uninteresting when taken as individuals, despite the potential that remains there (with an exception of Cooper's underdog Richie, perhaps). Bale's manipulative Irving Rosenfeld, though captivating in the film's first shot as he assembles his hairpiece, doesn't hold our attention or our emotion when he has a dark pensive moment in one of his laundromats; Lawrence's Rosalyn is another amusing character for the endearing actress to play, is but a collection of goofy jokes about being trashy. Even Amy Adams' Sydney, who strangely commits to a bad accent for a very comical amount of time, is cut short for her potential.
Russell shows that he is a sound filmmaker, both visually and in terms of his usage of music. As with The Fighter, he expresses that he knows how to bulk a soundtrack. In particular, he has a specific taste for music that can fulfill sequences with both nostalgia and a distinct energy, steering the drama of the sequence. American Hustle, with all of its jokes about Anchorman-like costume design, features a great scene of character procession to the climactic wails of Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."
As indicated by the planted existence of Lawrence's character (one who is on the fringe of becoming an ugly example of Oscar politics), American Hustle is best at making jokes than it is a strong narrative for which the audience to get into, welcoming its audience with a plethora of '70s-based laughs more than intriguing "Some of this actually happened" true story craziness. In terms of film history, Russell's latest is this year's Burn After Reading. A movie that is preceded by its ridiculousness, American Hustle is a hugely amusing film, but not one to take very seriously.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10