American Hustle (2013)

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Finally, a proper showcase for Bradley Cooper's dance moves. Amy Adams is a far better partner for him than Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook. The choreography is also considerably stronger. And his perm looks good on the dance floor. Aside from said perm, American Hustle also stars Christian Bale's combover and Amy Adams's cleavage. All of them are great, as are the actors displaying them.

The plot of American Hustle is far too convoluted for a concise summary after one viewing, but here goes. Irving Rosenfeld, played by a tubby Bale, is a charming, inexplicably seductive con man who meets his ideal partner in Adams's Sydney Prosser. Both of them are wonderful, bringing multiple layers to a couple of characters that could otherwise have come off far less likable. Bale, in particular, brings a surprising sensitivity to his role. Irving is a good guy with a knack for fooling people and Bale ably brings all of his contradictory aspects together. After Irving and Sydney get together, both professionally and personally, we learn that, whoops!, he already has a wife, played mischievously by Jennifer Lawrence, far better here than in her Oscar-winning role from last year. Lawrence, as Rosalyn Rosenfeld, seems to be having a hell of a lot of fun with this role, a reckless, restless, more than a little crazy housewife.

The plot gets complicated with the arrival of Cooper's Richie DiMaso, a weaselly, grasping FBI agent who thinks he's outsmarted Irving and Sydney, coercing them into an operation to entrap nice guy New Jersey mayor Carmine Polito, played by a lacquer-haired Jeremy Renner. From here on out, it becomes less clear who's really conning who and how. To say much more would be to say too much. I don't feel fully confident that the plot actually comes together properly by the end, but it's a fun ride, nonetheless. There are times when the movie begins to feel tiresome and you find yourself wondering when they're going to wrap it up already. But then Rosalyn sets something on fire and you start to have a good time again.

Opinions about this movie seem to range from exasperation and annoyance to pure delight. For the most part, mine fell in the latter category. American Hustle is worth giving a chance, even if just for the acting and fabulous costumes. It's also worth seeing for the reminder that one can never be too careful with one's science oven.


Man! The 1970's! I tell you what! Everyone had funny hair and walked in slow motion while Electric Light Orchestra punctuated our every step! Men were men! Women were women! Fashion was fashion! Swindlers swindled! Parties were rah-rah-rah-rocking! Microwaves were invented and they were called science ovens and no one new how to operate them and hahahahaha! Scammers really scammed back then too, and whoa daddy, in the 70's, people pulled off some really tricky cons, huh? WOW. THE 70'S WERE CRAAAAAAZY!

American Hustle, which takes place in 1978 (hooray!), tells the story of Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Posner, two lovers/con artists (hijinks galore!) who are busted by Richie DiMaso, an FBI agent with a perm and a warrant for their arrest. However, if Irving and Syndey can help Richie arrest four more people, he'll let them off the hook and they can go swinging and disco dancing ALL NIGHT LONG! Dyn-o-mite! Sydney tells Irving that she's going to pretend to fall in love with Richie, but she warns him that her performance is going to be real Oscar-caliber (ironic!). Oh, also, Richie's married to Rosalyn, who's a total mess but looks great in turquoise kitchen gloves and a floor length chiffon dress (Nutsville: Population 1!). The scam that Irving and Sydney set up is swell: The governor of Camden, NJ wants to bring casinos back to Atlantic City, but he's not able to get the money together to make his dream a reality, so Irving and Sydney dress up a guy as a fake sheik who will invest money in the mayor's scheme. And then bribery! And then the mob shows up! And then Irving's wife dances to Live and Let Die! And then everything runs off course! And then everything's back on course! But tensions run high! Who is Sydney really in love with?! Who is Irving really in love with?! Who's telling the truth? Who is telling lies?! WHAT IS UP WITH IRVING'S HAIR?! WHAT IS UP WITH RICHIE'S HAIR?! WHAT IS UP WITH AMY ADAMS AND JENNIFER LAWRENCE MAKING OUT?! JENNIFER LAWRENCE?! LOOOOOOOVE HER!

I didn't like American Hustle. It had its moments, but by the end of it, I felt like I'd done nothing more than watch a bunch of actors engaged in an overlong acting exercise. Perhaps my expectations for this film were a little high, as I really loved David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook, which featured many of the same cast members. Neat. I guess American Hustle is based on a real story, so I'm not supposed to be able to find flaw with it, but overall, the (admittedly confusing) story kind of takes a backseat to Russell's exercise in style and excess, and I wasn't really having any of it. American Hustle is what happens when you pull together behind the scenes footage of a bunch of A-list actors getting together and dressing up as members of ABBA and ABBA's production team for Halloween and then breaking into a ballroom and trying to re-enact Fun With Dick and Jane or something. On paper, that totally sounds like it would work, and apparently, it really did for a lot of people! It didn't for me. Put some relaxer in your hair and just chill the fuck out. Disco's dead, and so was I at the conclusion of American Hustle's 128 minute runtime.


American Hustle is a mess. It is a comedic caper with a cast of clowns, yet its pace is off and its tone is all ajumble. Like Woody Allen, David O. Russell directs his films in such a way that puts his actors to the forefront, showcasing their distinct personalities all the while reflecting the director's "voice". With both directors, eccentric characters are often memorable and extremely entertaining, but O. Russell's actors tend to frequently loose focus. This results in an absurdity that sometimes works marvelously to bolster the quality of the film, but that sometimes works distractingly against the story. Despite all the hype over the four main actors in the film, only Christian Bale retains a professional restraint and consistency. Notably, Jennifer Lawrence, though extremely entertaining, feels like she's performing in a high school play.

The pacing in American Hustle feels off as well. It really takes a long time for the story to get interesting. There is just too much character exposition for the first half hour, followed by another half hour of plot setup mixed with even more character exposition. It isn't until the one hour and fifteen minute mark that tension begins to mount in a scene in which our undercover leads meet up with a dangerous mobster to engage in political/ economic plans involving a Mexican dressed as a sheik. Jenifer Lawrence's character steps in to complicate matters, and hilarity ensues.

I've been a huge fan of David O. Russell's work in the past, (I was even delighted enough by Silver Linings Playbook to sit through it thrice) but American Hustle makes me tire of his style. It isn't exactly a bad movie, (it has its strong moments with an amusing cast, unforgettable lines, and solid artistic styling) but all the elements don't totally come together and the script isn't tight enough.