I kind of love that this movie opens with the clever disclaimer ‘Some of this actually happened’ because it sets a tone that pays off, mostly, for this energetic and enjoyable romp from David O. Russell. Russell is a director who has been getting a lot of flak over the past few years (and his past few films) for selling out; leaving his former eccentric formula of filmmaking for a more commercial and Oscary trajectory. I honestly didn’t care too much either way. The only Russell film that I really like is ‘I Heart Huckabees’, which is actually very different from any of his other films I’ve seen. Granted, I haven’t seen ‘Flirting With Disaster’ (which I hear is a favorite among his fans) but I seem to find some kernel of something I dislike about all his films, sans ‘I Heart Huckabees’.
Still, I was kind of excited about ‘American Hustle’. I’ll admit, when the project was first announced I wasn’t very interested. I liked some of the cast and was disinterested in the other half. Bale and Adams are usually reliable presences, and while I was never a fan BEFORE ‘Silver Linings Playbook’, I became a fan of Jennifer Lawrence based on that spirited performance and her tactless charm. Still, I kind of hate Jeremy Renner and find Bradley Cooper annoying.
But then the trailer was dropped and it looked like such fun!
For me, ‘American Hustle’ kind of feels like an eccentrically commercial film, so maybe this is the perfect lane for Russell, who obviously wants that Oscar. I’m still shocked that this so heavily over-performed with Oscar (racking up TEN Oscar nominations) and yet failed to win a single award, but AMPAS is obviously responding well to Russell’s directorial direction, so I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.
Like I said; I couldn’t honestly care less, but whatever.
The film is loosely based the ABSCAM federal con-job of the 70’s. I’m not entirely familiar with the real story, so I have no idea what of this actually happened, but this was intricately plotted fun, and while there are some plotting issues, this film mostly succeeds because of an ample cast and some sharp direction. Yes, David O. Russell has some serious fun with this one; point to point.
Here we have Irving Rosenfeld, a charismatic con man who gets himself in a sticky situation when he gets busted by an over ambitious FBI agent named Richie DiMaso. Irving’s partner, Sydney, is pulled into Richie’s web of charm and while Richie’s grip on Irving and Sydney tightens with his proposition to them, she begins playing the field herself; turning tables with a subtle allure. You see, Richie wants bigger names than Irving Rosenfeld, and so he offers Irving a clean slate if he helps entrap four big names. He sets his sights on Carmine Polito; an ambitious New Jersey mayor looking to make a better life for the kids in his community. With his passions and Irving’s persistence, the con is in place to make Richie a big name in his unit.
But Irving’s crazy wife, Rosalyn, could ruin everything.
The energy here is pretty great, and that is thanks to all the sharp editing tricks. Some films really rely on those cuts to create the needed tone, and this one has that in spades. I kind of found the dialog here really pedestrian, so while the whole plot unraveling and twists here and there were intriguing and wholly engaged, the dialog in some key scenes was just distracting. Thankfully, actors like Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper knew how to take those ridiculous lines and make them feel soulful and spirited. The cast all works really, and I was surprised with how much I really liked Jeremy Renner here (who was honestly best in show). A lot of people balked at Lawrence’s high octane performance and her battle with the accent, but she was just so hilariously layered here. Her confrontation scene with Adams, despite some shoddy dialog (seriously Russell?) was so human. Adams’ accent work, although part of the film itself, was more distracting simply because it was so unbelievably uneven that I can’t imagine anyone would fall for it, let along an FBI Agent.
But like I said, this was a lot of fun, and while I would have trimmed this down a tad, I can’t say that I want my time back.
I give this a healthy B. It's a lot of fun and well worth watching, but at the end of the day I probably wouldn't have nominated it for any of the Oscars is nabbed nominations for, outside of Costumes. Still, this is just shameless fun, and for that I applaud it. Russell also knows how to direct the hell out of this movie; but maybe next time he should let someone edit his script.