Warning: 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.
The 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.