“Is it worth paying for a ticket?”: American Hustle (2013)

american-hustle-movie-poster-1Warning: I’m about to write something that might be really unpopular. David O. Russell’s American Hustle (2013) is an examination of the ups and downs of life as a hustler. We follow two con artists as they seek to work out their relationship with one another, as the biggest heist of their conning career escalates beyond their control.

American Hustle has an amazing ensemble cast: Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld, con artist from childhood; Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser, his lover and partner in crime; Bradley Cooper as Richie DiMaso, the police officer with big ambitions; Jeremy Renner as Carmine Polito, the mayor who will do anything for the prosperity of his citizens; and the effervescent Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld, Irving’s beautiful and unpredictable wife. There’s also a nice cameo from my favourite human being, Louis C.K. The cast have excellent chemistry and carry the weight of the film.

However – maybe halfway through this film, I started feeling that it was way too long for what it is. The script seems bloated around the middle, not unlike Bale’s character. It feels much longer than its actual duration of 138 minutes. It’s not boring by any stretch of the imagination, but I felt like its time wasn’t used effectively. The story ambles along with backstory for what seems like an hour before getting into the really engaging part, where the big hustling moment occurs. This is where the story gains momentum, and I was really glad for it.

In addition to this, the plot felt unfinished. There were a number of plotholes by the end of the film, and some loose ends that were left untied. I won’t spoil them though. I’m comfortable with ambiguity in films, and I’m not always annoyed by loose ends, but I wished that there was more time to have these fully resolved in American Hustle. At the same time, I already felt that the film had taken too much time to get to where it was. There just seemed to be something missing and I was actually really upset that I didn’t think this was an amazing film.

american-hustle-movie-poster-13The strength of this film is its cast. Christian Bale is so great in his role as Irving Rosenfeld. Having gained a lot of weight for the role, and affected very poor posture, his commitment to the character really shows. Amy Adams displays a lot of versatility in her complex role. I’m not really a Bradley Cooper fan but he’s fairly good in this. Overall, Jennifer Lawrence steals the show in her moments on screen. She is perfect as Irving’s stay-at-home wife who is ready to party and seems to have an affinity for setting household items on fire. Lawrence’s portrayal of Rosalyn was genuinely funny and during the film I looked forward to seeing her on screen. I really want her to win that Golden Globe, just saying.

The film is shot beautifully. It doesn’t shy away from the poor taste of the 1970s, but paradoxically approaches it in an elegant way. I watched this one with my partner and we had a big chat about it in the car ride home from the cinema. At one point I said something like, “I don’t know, the ’70s context in the film just felt like it was there for the aesthetics. Aside from the FBI operation stuff.” My partner replied, “That’s because David O. Russell wants to be P.T. Anderson. He was taking cues from Boogie Nights.” – I’ll just leave this here in case anyone else agrees.

So, I realise that this is a really unpopular view of the film. American Hustle has been nominated for approximately a million awards and I’m trying not to let that affect my opinion. I really wanted to like it. I love Jennifer Lawrence so much and after seeing the trailer for this one before The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, I was super hyped. But it didn’t live up to my (admittedly high) expectations. Although it’s not a boring film and the cast is pretty much perfect, knowing what I know now, I could have easily just watched this one at home and not been bothered by missing it in the cinema.

Is it worth paying for a ticket?: If you like watching all the ‘awards season’ films in cinema, then yes. If not, wait for the DVD.
Watch the trailer here.

36 comments

  1. Well. That’s disappointing. Hopefully my experience is more positive than yours.

    1. I hope it is too! I’m looking forward to reading more opinions on this one, to see if I saw a drastically different version of the film to everyone else.

  2. I think it looks great and can’t wait to see it. I’ve thought that about a lot of films this year though and been let down, so we will see…

    1. I’d love to hear your take on it! 🙂

  3. Well, I still want to see this one, even though my expectations aren’t this high – last few films with dynamite casts where pretty disappointing.

    1. I’d be interested to read what you think about it! Thanks for the shout out. 🙂

  4. Except for the cast, this one didn’t interest me a bit. I guess I will give it a miss. As you said, DVD it is!

    1. I think it’s worth seeing eventually, if you’re interested in the cast! But don’t rush out to the cinema, that’s for sure. 🙂

  5. Good review Anna. The movie is quite the mess, but it’s an entertaining one that you can’t help but smile at each and every time these cast members just work off of the other. Doesn’t matter who, when or why, they just all work so terrifically well together and it made me smile each and every time.

    1. Thanks! Now that’s a word I would have liked to use for this film – messy. That’s the thing, it’s not a bad film, but there were elements of it that the amazing cast just couldn’t save. Big shame!

  6. I know the feeling, I was really let down by Cache- Michael haneke, really couldn’t see what all the fuss was about it bored me to death.

    1. I’ve never seen Cache, but from what I’ve heard it sounds kind of like Lost Highway. Good to hear I can pass it and not feel bad about it!

      1. Its nothing like lost highway, It’s about a bourgeois couple who find tapes on their front doorstep of the front o their flat in france, the show is about how immigrants have been historically treated in france.

        It was very slow moving, and quite ingenious upon reflection , just a boring watch though.

        1. Ha! You’re right, that is completely unlike Lost Highway. Shame on the person who made that comparison. Looks like an interesting film, maybe a good one to pop on whilst doing housework or something.

          1. I didn’t really enjoy it, but I really did Enjoy lost highway. I think a lot of lynch’s films are misunderstood. Or perhaps some of his audiences are more receptive to his work.

  7. I will definitely still go see this, just because of Jennifer Lawrence. It’s a shame this movie is such a mess. But “Silver Linings Playbook” was exceptionally good (I thought), so whatever David O. Russell made next was going to pale in comparison.

    1. Yeah, Lawrence was probably my favourite in this one. I actually haven’t seen Silver Linings Playbook, so I have to get on that ASAP!

  8. I really appreciate hearing your honest opinion of this movie. Even though I haven’t watched this yet, your points sound really valid. Glad to hear that the cast did a great job, I’m a huge fan of all of them.

    1. More than happy to provide an honest opinion any time. 🙂 The cast is pretty great. It’s probably worth seeing just to watch them interact with each another!

  9. How would you rank the cast?

    1. That’s a really good question. I would probably rank them: Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Bradley Cooper. Jennifer Lawrence would have been top ranks if she had more screen time!

  10. You write – At one point I said something like, “I don’t know, the ’70s context in the film just felt like it was there for the aesthetics. Aside from the FBI operation stuff.” My partner replied, “That’s because David O. Russell wants to be P.T. Anderson. He was taking cues from Boogie Nights.” – I’ll just leave this here in case anyone else agrees.

    Just to clarify, the 1970’s setting was used because this was inspired by the true life ABSCAM scandal that took place in the late 1970’s. ABSCAM was a real thing – these characters in this film tied up in this scandal, of course, are fictional.

    Overall though I kinda get you’re putting down here – I had that same feeling that this was missing the special something – though I’ve been looking back on the film more fondly in the passing weeks. I might need to reassess at some point in the future.

    1. Yep, that’s the ‘FBI operation stuff’ I was so vaguely referring to. 😉 I’ve been reflecting on this film and wondering what the special something was that seemed to be missing. It just seemed so disconnected, though I did enjoy parts of it. I think I want to re-watch and re-assess it as well!

  11. […] disappointing film released in 2013: Tie between American Hustle and World War ZI was admittedly hyping up American Hustle quite a bit before I saw it, so the […]

  12. Weeks after seeing American Hustle, I’m still not sure how I feel. In a year of average-quality movies (this isn’t 2010, with “Black Swan” and “The King’s Speech” both being fantastic movies not only for the year but for the era), I found American Hustle to be pretty great. Christian Bale probably deserves an Oscar, and the story follows a very clear, thorough trajectory. It’s like Goodfellas, a very complete story. I do wish they shaved a couple scenes and made it shorter, but I like what they do with their 138 minutes!

    1. Yeah, I’ve been reflecting on it as well. I’m still not convinced but I would like to see it again. Bale definitely is deserving of an Oscar for his role in this, but I’m not sure he’ll get one!

      1. I think Leo has a better shot (of the likely nominated men I saw this year), but still a fantastic performance! Like “Lincoln” last year, I think “American Hustle” is a great movie, but maybe not one you want to sit through again and again.

  13. I didn’t enjoy this film that much to be honest, although Jennifer lawrence was good in it, to be honest I don’t think I like the director

    1. Totally agreed! He seems a bit self-indulgent.

  14. Since writing my review I’ve read your analysis again. We don’t agree on everything, but your piece is superbly written. It is too long and I’m not a huge fan of the ending, and some of the lines in the narration were really poor. For all that though, I liked the film. The acting helps but unlike you, I found it really funny. There were a lot of moments that made me laugh and I found the story really entertaining.

    1. Thanks! I’m actually interested to see it again to see if my opinion has changed since originally watching it. Maybe I’ll write a reflection piece when that happens!

  15. […] get it. Why was Amy Adams’ middling performance nominated for the painfully mediocre American Hustle over this incredibly beautiful and raw portrayal of love and heartbreak? I could rant about this […]

  16. Jennifer Lawrence not winning Best Supporting Actress was little surprising but it was a good decision made in the end. And that sealed American Hustle’s fate… 0 wins out of 10 nominations.. hahahaha.. I think American Hustle made history there 😀

    1. Zero out of ten! And it couldn’t have deserved that result more. All talk and no action – the very definition of this film! I liked Lawrence a lot in this, but Nyong’o was just too amazing in 12 Years A Slave.

  17. […] I’m very aware that this is an unpopular opinion. It’s difficult to argue with a 93% Rotten Tomatoes score, but I firmly believe that people got caught up in the hype with this. It’s funny because the central story of American Hustle (2013) is about con artists pulling heists on everyone, and that’s exactly what the film seems to have done with the general film-viewing populus. I wrote an “Is it worth paying for a ticket?” review of it here. […]

  18. […] she is an excellent actress). I really wasn’t a fan of Silver Linings Playbook (2012), nor American Hustle (2013), and nor Joy necessarily, but in all three films, Lawrence is the moneymaker; not the story, […]

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