Film Review: American Hustle

american-hustle

Con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are forced to work with FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) after being caught out running a loan scam. However, what starts out as a straightforward sting operation soon becomes embroiled in the world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.

In the opening scene of American Hustle, we see an overweight Christian Bale meticulously attaching a hairpiece to mask his baldness. So much attention is paid to each strand of hair; it’s a work of art. By the end of it, he actually looks pretty good, and that perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the film.

See, practically everyone in American Hustle is hiding behind a façade, whether it’s part of a con to bring down corrupt politicians, or simply in the privacy of their own home. Everyone is putting on a front, be it for self-preservation or to attract or please the ones they love. It’s an interesting theme and one that really lets you get inside the characters, their motivations and their aspirations.

This depth to the characters is essential as American Hustle’s story isn’t really its strong point. The ‘hustle’ part of the story is loosely based on a true story, the Abscam operation of the 1970s and 80s, but never really has the required depth and thus feels rather shallow. I found it difficult to really care about the actual con and the payoff at the end was somewhat underwhelming. The pacing is also a little erratic with certain sections that lull and feel too drawn out.

first-tv-spot-for-american-hustle-question

However, as with all David O Russell films, the story is largely of little consequence; it’s the characters who form the basis of the drama, and this is where American Hustle really excels. O Russell has assembled quite the cast and pretty much everyone delivers a stellar performance. Christian Bale as the overweight, balding lead is magnificent as we see him transform from confident grifter in the outset to someone who’s way out of his depth once the operation gets into full swing.

Amy Adams, who plays a quasi femme fatale character, is also brilliant as she constantly keeps you (and the other characters) guessing where her allegiances really lie. Bradley Cooper plays, well, Bradley Cooper whilst Jennifer Lawrence is superbly trashy yet vulnerable as Irving’s wife. Robert De Niro also crops up in an uncredited role and absolutely steals those scenes, which almost makes you wish he had a more prominent role.

Many have claimed that American Hustle plays a little like a Scorsese-lite film, borrowing heavily from films such as Goodfellas but without the same substance and depth, and there is some truth in this. There are definite nods to Scorsese’s films but American Hustle does manage to find its own identity, sticking its tongue firmly in its cheek as it does so.

As with O Russell’s previous film, Silver Lining’s Playbook, American Hustle’s story might only get you so far but the ensemble’s performances ensure you become invested in characters you care about even if they’re tremendously flawed and not altogether likeable, and that’s not an easy feat.

Pros

  • Stellar performances, particularly from Bale and Adams
  • Great period setting, clothes, hairstyles, etc
  • Jennifer Lawrence singing Live and Let Die

Cons

  • Somewhat weak story and climax
  • Dodgy pacing at times

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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41 thoughts on “Film Review: American Hustle

  1. Mr Rumsey says:

    Not reading the review for fear of spoilers, but 4/5 pigeons ain’t half bad!

  2. thomasjford says:

    I’m with you mate, I liked it but it’s being vastly over rated I think. More Oscar nominations than 12 Years A Slave?! I too thought the ending was an anti climax, and it was very Scorsese light. Having said all that, the cast were good and overall it was a fairly entertaining film.

  3. Mark Walker says:

    Great review Chris and one I’m agreed on. The pace was my biggest issue but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. The whole cast were fantastic but Bale and Adams were particular standouts. Not to mention that brilliant little DeNiro appearance.

  4. theipc says:

    How can something with a climax be bad?

    : )

  5. ckckred says:

    Nice review and I think a 4/5 is a fair rating. It had the Scorsese feel but not quite the depth to keep it on a smooth course. I really liked what Russell did with his actors though, some fine performances.

  6. jjames36 says:

    Good review. I generally agree with your conclusion (even if I have some different reasons). This is very good. It is not quite great.

  7. Good stuff, good stuff. The more and more accolades that this picks up, it looks like it’s going to sweep the Oscars! I love this film, but surely other flicks are more deserving.

  8. Mark Hobin says:

    I had the best time watching this film. Thoroughly entertaining. In my Top 10 for the year. It also seems to be the odds on favorite to win Best Picture at the moment. However that could change…

  9. CMrok93 says:

    Good review. The ensemble is terrific and really run through everything this script throws at them. They also make this movie one of the more entertaining times I had at the movies in the past year, although I did realize that it wasn’t perfect.

  10. ruth says:

    Great review Chris! I think I gave it the same rating. I agree w/ you that this film isn’t a carbon copy of Scorsese’s work like some people have mentioned. I thought it was a wild and fun ride, but not a particularly deep one. Glad to see Bale got a nom though, he was excellent!

  11. Great review. I pretty much agree with you but I would rate it lower. Thought it was so slow and uneventful. Loved the performances, though.

  12. lauren says:

    Good review, I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as you did but I can’t fault the performances. The scene with Jennifer Lawrence singing Live and let Die was brilliant.

  13. I realy enjoyed this, but I wonder if this is going to stand the test of time once the dust settles. You make some really interesting observations Chris and, as always, it’s a top read. Well done.

    • Thanks very much Mark! I think that’s an interesting point and I’m not sure it will stand the test of time. It’ll go down as a good entry into O Russell’s filmography but not a massive amount more than that to be honest.

  14. keith7198 says:

    Great stuff buddy. It was a four star flick for me too. Love the performances. I do wonder if the film has staying power. Will it be one we will be talking about in 10 years? I just don’t think so.

  15. Beer Movie says:

    Great review mate. I was really excited for this after recently seeing Silver Linings Playbook. But aside from some decent enough (but probably overrated in my view) performances, I just could not get into it.

  16. Popcorn Nights says:

    Nice review Chris, interesting to get your take on it. I loved this film and didn’t really have the same problems over pacing that you and others have – though I can see why you have mentioned it. I thought the lulls really made the bits that clicked into gear all the better. Agree about the payoff at the end, kind of like waiting for a firework to go off but it just fizzles out and fails to go off, which is a shame.

    • Thanks Stu! Great analogy on the ending, it really was like that. I was expecting it to be a lot more twisty than it was. For what’s billed as a hustle film, there was very little in terms of hustling I thought. But it was all about the characters really, which is what O Russell’s known for, and that side of things was excellent.

  17. sati says:

    Live and let die moment is actually the single most embarrassing scene I saw last year but I like that you praised Bale’s performance – he was the true heart of the movie and I adored his work here.

  18. thycriticman says:

    I somehow managed to like the characters. I believe that the asshole person who you should not like, can have enough charm and interesting enough character to make him or her extremely likable. Bale in this movie portrays that kind of character. Cooper on the other hand is someone I wanted to see get what was coming to him.

    Well written review and an accurate score!

  19. Zoë says:

    Great review Chris! Watched this last weekend and I did enjoy it, though it had flaws that many people are overlooking!

  20. mettelray says:

    Yes, I agree with the pacing and the story. I don’t know, I have to write a review because I’m conflicted. I liked the characters, I loved Bale’s a bit off putting look and Adams and I do liked Lawrence when she went all cray-cray but the story itself.. meh. I still don’t know…

  21. American Hustle would have been a better film if David O. Russell focused more on the writing than ‘making it all about the characters’. Still, it was enjoyable.
    Great review!

  22. table9mutant says:

    Nice review. 🙂 Think you’ve rated it slightly higher than I did but I agree with your list of pros & cons. Having seen The Wolf Of Wall Street now, though, this one just seems so weak in comparison.

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