American Hustle

American Hustle

Postby CAP » Thu Dec 12, 2013 1:23 pm

What a mess. I give it two. I’m still thinking what for… maybe the disco scene with the Donna Summer soundtrack? Basically, this is a sting movie. Like The Sting, but with Christian Bale and Amy Adams instead of Paul Newman and Robert Redford. It’s about a couple of swindlers, their own personalities largely sham or deception, who get caught up by the FBI in a larger swindle to net corrupt politicians. It’s a very complicated story, based on an actual operation by the FBI in 1978, but given a looser, somewhat melodramatic treatment by director and co-writer David O. Russell. I don’t think it works, on any number of levels. As a period movie, it was too vague. There’s too much plot to have time to note the scenery and times. Most of the characters just look badly dressed, the sound track largely un-evocative and distracting (Summer being the exception). You’d have thought Van McCoy's The Hustle, would have at least made the soundtrack. It was a bit earlier than 78 I know, but still… 70s. As a thriller, it was too meandering. As a comedy it just wasn’t funny enough. As a relationships movie or romance, it was too sporadic or scattered. And it wants to be all of these things, at the same time. It is just a mess.

Earlier in the year I reviewed the director’s Silver Linings Playbook, which was more successful, and contained two of the same cast – Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. There the fatal attraction to overkill was noted in the spiralling silliness of the plot. Here the story never even has that launching pad. The audience never really finds its feet, places the characters. It lurches around with voice-overs by the main character Irving Rosenfeld (an almost unrecognisable Christian Bale) but Irving is soon sidelined in events that see his partner, Sidney Prosser (Amy Adams) supposedly taking up with a would-be ‘investor’ or victim, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) who is soon revealed as an FBI undercover agent and who then negotiates a plea bargain whereby Irving and Prosser reluctantly agree to sting some bigger marks with DiMaso along to make arrests. But Russell is not content with just an elaborate string of stings. He wants juicy confrontations between his characters, actors' stuff! Scenes are often pitched at near hysteria and the actors all get lots of ‘actorly’ turns. Lawrence, as Irving’s young wife, Rosalyn is particularly over the top, in her most unattractive role to date. Did she put on weight for this? Bale clearly did, but then he’s got a reputation for the method acting bit. I don’t know why the director couldn’t just find a fat, balding Jewish guy for the role or a brassy manipulative housewife for Rosalyn. Box office draw I suppose, but it does make the whole thing a bit clever, a bit hyper. Cooper as an Italian American with crimped hair doesn’t work for me either.

Because of the large New Jersey Italian presence to the story and Mafia undercurrents, comparisons with The Sopranos are inevitable and unflattering. You wish The Soprano’s creator, David Chase, had had a hand in the script. There’s a guy who knows how to effortlessly, effectively integrate his characters with the story, the scenery with the action. Russell has none of that economy or elegance. He shoots for the highlights, cherry-picks the action and is always looking for another twist. It’s just tedious. I kept looking at my watch after about half an hour. I didn’t really care where the thing was going by that stage. I got the message and started thinking about Christmas presents I should be out buying. Why was I lying low in an empty cinema again? Story of my life I suppose. American Hustle was turning out to be just American Hype and I was in no mood to indulge.
Last edited by CAP on Sat Dec 21, 2013 3:51 am, edited 2 times in total.
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