American Hustle (2013)

American HustleDespite owning a chain of dry cleaning stores in New York City, businessman Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) makes most of his money flogging fake paintings on the side. When he meets stripper Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) at a party in 1978, the two become partners with Sydney adopting the guise of British aristocrat Lady Edith Greensly in an attempt to ensnare investors. They attract more than just clients, however, and are soon under investigation by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), though he has bigger fish to fry; in exchange for their freedom Irving and Sydney must help to implicate four other criminals. Suddenly, they, along with Irving’s wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), become embroiled in a plot involving seemingly corrupt politician Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) and mob boss Victor Tellegio (Robert De Niro).

Like some strange composite of last year’s awards contenders, recycling the cast of David O. Russell’s own Silver Linings Playbook‘s and recalling both the setting and tone of Ben Affleck’s Argo, American Hustle struts into cinemas just in time for 2014’s Golden Globes. The whole thing stinks of award bait, from method actor Christian Bale’s continued yo-yo diet to cinematographer Linus Sandgren’s preoccupation with the production’s extensive hair and make-up. Watching Russell’s latest it’s hard not to mentally compose your own “For Your Consideration” montage, even for the most technical of categories.

That’s not to say that American Hustle isn’t good — there is undoubtedly much to admire in its 138 minute running time, as there should be — just that it’s often more concerned with being worthy than either engaging or enjoyable. For what feels like much of the movie’s first act, dialogue is often eschewed in favour of lengthy voice-over, giving the film a detached quality that is perfect for explanatory soundbites but perhaps less conducive to immersive storytelling. This uninterrupted stream of exposition is necessary, however, as unlike Affleck’s Oscar winner Russell’s film doesn’t simplify events so much as complicate them. The introduction of the Arab Sheik should have been funny in its absurdity, but unless you’ve been keeping notes you’ll be too busy waiting for him to explain his purpose to get the joke.

It’s a shame because when the jokes do hit their mark they’re often very funny indeed. Cooper, though recently revealed to be a capable dramatic actor, is first and foremost a gifted comedian, and his passive-aggressive relationship with his boss Stoddard Thorsen (played beautifully by Louis C.K.) — a mentor figure who keeps trying and failing to impart wisdom through a fishing anecdote — is a joy to behold. Lawrence also shines in her capacity as unstable housewife and accidental arsonist Rosalyn Rosenfeld, and she — along with Stoddard — may be the closest the film comes to sympathetic characters. Bale and Adams aren’t anywhere near as much fun, though the latter still manages to impress thanks to a note-perfect English accent and an irrepressible innate charm.

Impressive and occasionally entertaining, American Hustle is decent enough comedy-drama — more admirable perhaps than Anchorman 2 but nowhere near as enjoyable. Strong performances and even stronger production values guarantee that there is always something to look at, but once the credits have finally rolled you’re unlikely to recall more than Bale’s comb-over, Adams’ cleavage and Cooper’s curls. At least until awards night, when the montages start.



About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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