AMERICAN HUSTLE Review

by     Posted 350 days ago

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From its opening shot, American Hustle is about the art of the con, the small cons we pull on each other and, more importantly, ourselves.  The con can be in the image we project to the world to the point where we can no longer distinguish who we truly are from the lie we’ve created.  David O. Russell‘s new film features characters who lie to the world in order to lie to themselves, but the filmmaker never manages to organize the lies and the liars into something bigger and more poignant.  They’re random molecules bouncing off each other in a way that’s fun, flighty, and occasionally a little melancholy.  Russell seems bent on trying to meld his offbeat earlier films with his recent, more populist fare, but the result is a piece that’s often amusing, but rarely audacious.

Set during the 1970s, the story follows the unlikely relationship between con-artists and lovers Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) and ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper).  Rosenfeld and Prosser are happy running a racket on marks, but are caught dead-to-rights by DiMaso.  Their only chance at freedom is working with DiMaso to bring down Camden Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), whose corruption extends as far as wanting to build casinos in order to save the city he genuinely loves.  But everyone’s lies and ambitions as well as Irving’s loose canon wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) threatens to derail the entire operation with disastrous and possibly fatal consequences.

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Russell quickly establishes a playful con before the movie even really begins.  The studio banner for Columbia Pictures is era-specific, and in the case of new studio Annapurna Pictures, they created a 70s-style logo.  Everyone is playing dress-up, and Russell builds a nice tone at the outset as we see Irving meticulously craft a combover-toupee combo.  We then move to Sydney and her fake British accent as she plays her seductive “Edith” persona, and then over to DiMaso, who wears a head of finely-crafted curls.  The 1970s were a time of outlandish fashion, and Russell lets the hair and make-up do a lot of the heavy lifting.

The movie is at its best when its upbeat persona manages to line the characters up with a deeper theme.  Sydney best exemplifies this merger as Adams slips in and out of a bad English accent.  Since “people believe what they want to believe”, no one calls her on the accent, and she only slips out of it when she wants to remind Irving of her power.  She’s sexy and seductive, and once you’ve bought into the glamour, as DiMaso does, rational thought goes out the window.  Sydney has the power to make men want her, but she’s the one who needs the mask.  As she says in her voiceover, she always wanted to be anybody else.

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Adams strong performance is matched by Cooper and Lawrence.  Bale sounds like he’s doing a De Niro impression, but his co-stars find better routes to their performances.  Lawrence is a firecracker, and while she doesn’t get enough screen time to add some shading to Rosalyn, the Oscar-winning actress still brings a delightful, reckless abandon to the character, who becomes a welcome relief as a brooding and depressive tone begins to creep into the picture.  As for Cooper, he whips up a nice mix of vulnerability, anxiety, desperation, to his role, and his scenes with Louis C.K., who plays DiMaso’s exasperated boss, are among the year’s best.

And yet for all of its strong performances and skillful coloring, it never comes together into anything meaningful.  Russell is spinning a lot of plates—Irving’s relationship with Sydney; Irving’s relationship with Rosalyn; Sydney’s relationship with DiMaso; the actual con job—and they rarely illustrate anything thoughtful or worthwhile.  It’s nice seeing these actors play off each other against a peppy backdrop, but to what point and purpose?  The notion of self-deluded con artists is far from new, and Russell makes a big mistake by trying to echo Goodfellas.  He may have the talented actors and the excellent soundtrack, but American Hustle lacks the control and artistry of the 1990 classic.  Goodfellas is Scorsese at the top of his game; American Hustle is Russell trying to find his game.

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The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook gave Russell an easy path to good comedy, passable family drama, and a clear structure to a climatic resolution.  American Hustle brings him off terra firma, but he can’t seem to recapture the aggressive, uncompromising style of his first four features.  The director that joked about firing gunshots into a real corpse on Three Kings and was fine with “An Existential Comedy” as the tagline on the poster for I Heart Huckabees has been repressed in favor or someone who can throw a good party but makes sure it never gets out of hand.  American Hustle doesn’t feel like a work of restraint as much as it feels like timidity masquerading as braggadocio.

I really wanted American Hustle to hook me, and the film is constantly alluring.  There are good ideas stewing about, the performances are captivating, and this is definitely the time for movies about The American Dream™.  Unfortunately, it’s as phony as combovers, British accents, perms, and polyester suits.  Thankfully, Russell’s picture never comes off as self-important; it’s simply misguided.  American Hustle is so busy relishing lies that it never builds to finding an insightful truth.

Rating: C+

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  • Doug_101

    C+? Wow, no.
    I keep reading that in reviews for this film – that it’s not meaningful or it doesn’t say anything important. Funny, I thought films were also meant to entertain and American Hustle is entertaining as hell. Rating: A.

    • Jamie_412

      Amen to this and what Pamela said up top. Not every movie has to have some artfully done, existential meaning to it. Lighten up.

  • Farrell

    Cue the armchair crybabies bitching about Goldberg, a man they hate so much they just can’t stop reading his reviews, in 3…2…1…

    • Davis

      To be honest this is one of his best review, the only honest review of this wannabe goodfellas

    • Johnson

      Um… no. The problem is that he’s the only one writing reviews and a lot of people use the site. Most of them think he writes bad rewies and don’t want him to write anything.

      • Farrell

        There are literally HUNDREDS of other pro reviewers out there…if people don’t like Goldberg, they have plenty of other options. But people love to whine about the same thing ad infinitum.

      • http://thenonessentials.blogspot.com/ Sean Chandler

        I read Collider because they tend to cover stories I enjoy and have a good ration of rumors to real news. …then comes their movie reviewer. He seems to hate the types of movies they cover, and has an unpleasant snarky demeanor in all he covers.

        I come to this site for the movie news. They just happen to have a really bad movie reviewer.

      • Farrell

        Then don’t read his fuckin’ reviews. I tend to avoid things I don’t like…crazy concept, right? You come for movie reviews, but generally hate the reviewer and how he reviews…you’re a walking contradiction.

      • Please.

        Shut the fuck up, Goldberg.

      • http://thenonessentials.blogspot.com/ Sean Chandler

        Are you having trouble reading? I didn’t say I come for the reviews. I said I come for the movie news. They just happen to have a bad reviewer.

      • Farrell

        But you keep reading and commenting on his reviews. Here’s a tip…when you come to this site, and see a Goldberg review, just keep scrolling down the page.

      • http://thenonessentials.blogspot.com/ Sean Chandler

        In an effort to get Collider to switch out reviewers or get Goldberg to calm down, yes I voice my lack of approval.

        I honestly wonder why they don’t have Frosty write reviews or appear on The Collision. I would also be very interested in having Frosty and Goldberg debate movies. They seem to have opposite opinions on everything.

      • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

        Collider’s not going to switch out reviewers. I’m the managing editor. If by “calming down” you mean I should come up with a more palatable tone for a faceless ego-mass, I don’t know how to do that. I can only write in my voice.

        Steve doesn’t want to write reviews. He doesn’t like writing. He has an open invitation to be on The Collision. All he has to do is ask, but he’s usually too busy doing all of the other stuff that makes this site run.

        Also, we agree more often than you think.

      • http://thenonessentials.blogspot.com/ Sean Chandler

        The problem I and many others have is that you seem to have disdain for the types of movies this website spends extensive amounts of time covering. And when you write with snark about movies your readers have been anticipating (and many enjoy) for months, it seems like you’re being condescending toward your readers.

        Based his statements in his interviews, Frosty disagrees with you a great deal when it comes to blockbusters.

        As a reader I would be far more open to your more critical reviews if they were balanced by someone who doesn’t come off cynical towards blockbusters and Oscar-bait (such as this film)

      • http://thenonessentials.blogspot.com/ Sean Chandler

        Thank you for joining the discussion.

  • Mike S.

    Saw this last night and I absolutely loved it. I can’t disagree with Matt here when he said the film lacks substance but I think that’s by design. Trying to decipher who’s conning who and watching these characters play off each other is the most fun I’ve had in the theatre this year.

  • Josh Kaye

    I gotta say while I usually disagree with Goldberg on a lot of things, I felt the same exact way he felt after watching the movie. The performances are pretty fantastic but shit at what cost do you focus so much of your efforts on characters that you avoid telling an actual story? Yes, it’s nice to look at and it’s got a pretty great soundtrack and score but it doesn’t have much else. I went into this movie really wanting to like it and it just left me disappointed.

    Also, for those disagreeing with a mans opinion…well it’s just that, an opinions. I accept my thoughts on this movie are in the minority but I have the right to have those thoughts

  • RIC

    62 reviews in on RT. Only 2 rotten ratings.

    Sitting pretty at 97% right now…(although that is sure to be lowered to at the least the low 90s by it’s wide release in a week).

  • GuestThatLeft

    Maybe Collider should just stick to talking shit about how other sites conjure up rumors THEN post the rumors in THEIR articles. LMAO ok Matt Goldberg is absolute trash. Im done with this awful website. Peace Bitches *drops mic

    • IMPYEMU

      Bye.

    • Strong Enough

      aren’t you the same guy that left like 10 times? lol

  • I’ve said it before…

    Fuck you, Goldberg.

    • Strong Enough

      different opinions makes you angry! whoooo!

  • Jimmy B

    The picture tries too hard to be a Scorsese movie. It has no authenticity.

  • ped

    Haha 96% on RT. This guy tries soo hard to stand out and be different. Awful

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