US Release Date: 12-20-2013
Directed by: David O. Russell
- Christian Bale, as
- Irving Rosenfeld
- Bradley Cooper, as
- Richie DiMaso
- Amy Adams, as
- Sydney Prosser
- Jeremy Renner, as
- Mayor Carmine Polito
- Jennifer Lawrence, as
- Rosalyn Rosenfeld
- Louis C.K., as
- Stoddard Thorsen
- Jack Huston, as
- Pete Musane
- Michael Pena, as
- Paco Hernandez
- Shea Whigham, as
- Carl Elway
- Alessandro Nivola, as
- Anthony Amado
- Elisabeth Rohm, as
- Dolly Polito
- Paul Herman, as
- Alfonse Simone
- Said Taghmaoui, as
- Irv's Sheik Plant
- Matthew Russell, as
- Dominic Polito
- Thomas Matthews, as
- Francis Polito
- Robert De Niro as
- Victor Tellegio
Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale in American Hustle.
Some movies are easy to admire, even if they're not so easy to love. American Hustle is such a movie. Everything about it is of the highest quality in terms of production value and performances. What it lacks is emotional resonance. Nearly every character is unlikable and there's basically zero emotional investment in anything that happens. There are winners and losers by the film's end, but basically, who cares which is which?
The film is directed and co-written by David O. Russell, hot off of last year's Silver Linings Playbook. He brings with him the two stars of that film, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. The film deals with the ABSCAM operation of the 1970s and early 1980s, although the subtitle before the film only cheekily says, "Some of this actually happened.". Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a con-man from Long Island with a young rather ditzy wife, Rosalyn (Lawrence), and a fellow con-artist mistress, Sydney (Adams), who is trapped into working with the FBI to set-up a sting operation in the hopes of nabbing everyone from mobsters to politicians. Cooper plays Richie DeMaso, the arrogant upstart FBI agent running the operation, even though clearly he's in over his head.
It's obvious from the beginning that the cast and production team had a lot of fun with the time period. The costumes, the cars and especially the hair all just scream 1970s in all of its excesses. The film opens with Bale's Irving assembling his combover with great care, using a hairpiece and glue and it becomes something of a running joke throughout the film. Cooper's Richie, meanwhile, has an unflattering permanent, which requires wearing curlers. Adams and Lawrence come off a little better than the men, but their hair and clothes are equally dated. There's even a little bit of meta-humor related to the time-period when a microwave oven is introduced to the Rosenfelds who cluelessly call it a "science oven".
The performances are all excellent. Bale continues to prove that he's a chameleon, burying himself inside the slovenly, out-of-shape Irving. A character who manages to get by on his confidence. Adams plays her most adult role, flirting with nudity in several scenes. Cooper continues his transformation from pretty boy to genuine actor. While Lawrence is a scene-stealer as Rosalyn, the clueless housewife. Don't be surprised if you see any of these names come Oscar time. There are also a few nicely done smaller parts, including Louis C.K. who also steals scenes as Cooper's FBI superior.
There are many individual entertaining scenes, most of which are the film's lighter moments. However, given the complicated nature of the plot and the unsympathetic cast, it's difficult to ever become emotionally invested in the plot. Who will come out on top? Does it really matter? The ending fails to generate a strong emotion either way.
On a technical level this film is brilliant, filled with strong performances and some funny moments. However, I doubt that I will ever want to watch it again.
Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams in American Hustle.
And the award for most overrated movie of the year goes to... American Hustle. I'm baffled as to exactly why so many critics are falling over each other to praise this movie. But then I thought last year's Silver Linings Playbook was also overrated. Perhaps David O. Russell is the filmmaker who's most in touch with today's zeitgeist. I can think of no other reason why his recent movies have received such universal acclaim.
Both American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook are decent enough entertainments but neither is the instant classic they've been hailed as. Yes American Hustle captures the essence of the time period nicely, yes the cast is terrific, and yes it has an appealing off-kilter sense of humor, but what passes for a plot is really just a series of stylish set pieces, underscored with classic songs from the era, wherein the stars get together to compare accents. It's a fairly entertaining ride but hardly a masterpiece.
Sure there is joy to be found in watching the talented cast -in Carter era drag- play these larger than life characters (and I even think Bradley Cooper does a decent acting job) but like my brother I was never emotionally invested in any of them. I kept waiting for that moment or scene where they would become fully rounded flesh and blood human beings instead of walking, talking 1970s caricatures, but it never happened.
Christian Bale gives another excellent performance. He is an actor of startling intensity who buries himself in his roles. He and Amy Adams are the standouts. They alone seem to get under the skin of their characters. And although Bale is the one who altered his physical appearance the most he doesn't rely on his comb-over and protruding gut to get by. Cooper and Lawrence both tend to overplay a bit in their more colorful roles. Richie and Rosalyn are not as subtly drawn as Irving and Sydney.
I see Scott's point about there not being anyone to root for. Although the script has definite ideas about just who it thinks the good guys are and who it considers to be the bad guys. The con artists and mobsters come out looking better than the FBI agents or most of the politicians (with the exception of Mayor Carmine Polito who is shown as a sympathetic dupe). Don't fall for the hype, American Hustle is a good, but by no means great, movie.
Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper in American Hustle
American Hustle is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, yet as my brothers wrote, it is hardly as worthwhile a watch as you would think. It reminds me of The Sting, which won the Best picture Oscar in 1973. Both have famous casts, entertaining characters, some catchy tunes but ultimately a pointless plot. A con is not a plot. It simply makes all that came before it pointless.
I agree with Scott that there are many individual entertaining scenes. I busted out laughing at the opening shot of Bale trying to cover his bald spot. Then Bradley Cooper touches it in the next scene and I almost lost it again. Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams share the most memorable scene in the entire film when they confront each other in the bathroom. See the pic in Patrick’s review.
None of these characters are subtle. The actors are all playing to the back row. Cooper’s FBI agent comes on strong and tough but is a huge pussy, who still lives with his mother who is forcing him to marry someone he does not love. Amy Adams never misses a chance to show off her breasts with neckline plunging dresses. Cooper keeps up with her when they go on a date and his shirt is open as low as hers.
It is those kinds of visuals that are the high points. How funny is the scene where a curlers wearing Adams is talking on the phone with Cooper who is likewise wearing curlers in his hair? How about the way Bale sits in that chair when he and Adams are listening to the jazz record? Russell and the cast likely had all kinds of fun coming up with these visual gags but as cute as they all are, they did not make me root for any of these people.
As Patrick wrote, Carmine Polito is the most sympathetic character. We constantly hear him say that what he is doing is for the good of the people of New Jersey. He is the only one who does not seem to be completely out for himself but he is also hard to take seriously. His wig belongs on Elvis and I love the scene in his home when his children race down the stairs to see what was going on, including the adopted black one, and they all look about the same adult age.
If viewed as a comedy, this film has some things to offer but I concur with my brothers that I never really cared what happened to anyone. It is like watching a bunch of Saturday Night Live sketches that are mocking the 1970s. You look forward to the next bit but when all is said and done you only remember everyone's hair. This movie only succeeds as one long joke about how tacky the 1970s were.
Photos © Copyright Columbia Pictures (2013)