David O. Russel’s American Hustle is filled with the extravagance of the 70’s, a chaotic story, and characters with huge personalities. All of this amounts to a film that’s certainly bold and often entertaining but oddly uneven and lacking an exciting plot. The story is about the Abscam scandal in the late 70’s and it’s uber talented cast includes Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence. Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a small time con man who falls in love na dteams up with the cool and sleek Sydney Prosser, played by Amy Adams. Bale’s got a killer potbelly and comb over to again show how he transforms himself for his roles. Then there’s Bradley Cooper’s Richie DiMaso, who is an FBI agent that forces Rosenfeld and Prosser to help him take down Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). All the while Irving’s wife Rosalyn is causing problems. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Rosalyn is sassy and hilarious. Her and Bale are the MVP’s of the whole movie.
There’s a lot of moving parts here and while O. Russell breathes a small sense of exhuberance into the film, he’s not Scorsese. The movie revels in the era of the 70’s so much that it thinks it doesn’t have to deliver us a great story. In many ways it ends up feeling like an imitation of 70’s films with its slow motion shots and 70’s costumes and hair do’s. It felt a bit awkward at times honestly. He’s clearly taken inspiration from Scorsese and this story certainly lends itself to the Goodfellas style of storytelling. O. Russell spends much of the movie with his characters giving voiceovers to build their characters but the films plot is so jumbled and thin that it’s hard to grasp what even is going on. It has to be intentionally done and I understand its purpose is to confuse the viewer as to who is conning who, but the film isn’t deep enough or smart enough to pull that off. The films characters and story is simply surface value. The film is also 2 hours and 20 minutes but feels as though it’s 3 hours. Probably because it was edited in a blender.
David O. Russell’s two nearly great films before this (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook) used a formula that took a basic narrative and O. Russell made the characters the center of it. In American Hustle, a crime-caper, it doesn’t work near as well and comes across as a bunch of jazz performances that don’t quite fit together. The film lacks the character depth of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, which is what propels O. Russel’s recent films. But there is a certain level of humor and precise direction of these larger than life characters that I must applaud. The best moments are when the characters get into convoluted arguments that allow the actors to show off their skill set. You’ll get a few good laughs out of it all and there are a few exciting scenes as well. American Hustle is a messy film that is held together by the entertaining performances of these characters who are always fun to watch.