CGB Review of American Hustle (2013)

I loved Silver Lining Playbook and I despised Joy, so I had no idea what to expect from this David O. Russell flick.

This is my review of American Hustle!

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Between this and Joy, I’m starting to see a pattern with David O. Russell films: His movies can be hard to summarize.  Alas, I will do the best I can to provide a summary.
American Hustle is the wild story of Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, two con artists who are forced by F.B.I agent Richie DiMaso to set up elaborate sting operations on corrupt politicians, which include Camden, New Jersey, Mayor Carmine Polito.  While that’s going on, Irving must balance his tumultuous romance with Sydney and his troubled marriage to Rosalyn, an unstable woman who may have Histrionic personality disorder (“a mental condition in which people act in a very emotional and dramatic way that draws attention to themselves…” https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001531.htm).

I remember coming home one night and my parents were watching this movie.  “How’s the movie?” I asked.  My mom gave it a thumbs down while my dad had fallen asleep.
After watching this flick, I can see why.

The Hits
This is what film reviewers called “an actor’s piece.”  It’s the kind of the film that is made specifically to showcase an ensemble cast of A-list actors.  I kept watching this flick for the performances.  I commend Christian Bale for putting on all that weight and he sells the character of Irving as a scheming, self-preserving con man.
Jennifer Lawrence’s Rosalyn is the only character I cared about.  With a believable Boston accent, Jennifer Lawrence portrays Rosalyn as an endearing basket case.  She is manic without becoming annoying, immature without coming off as too childish, and incredibly sympathetic.  Honestly, I wish the movie was told from her perspective.  I could watch her confrontation with Amy Adams’ Sydney over and over again.
The costumes, hair styles and make-up in this movie all resemble the craziness of the late 70’s and early 80’s.   If there’s one thing David O. Russell does really well, it is dressing his actors in a way that captures the mood of the era that his movie is set in.
Finally, I would like to point out that David O. Russell does handle his unlikable characters correctly.  Basically an unlikable character is made easy to root for if:
A. They get their comeuppance
B. They are forced to rise above their flaws.
C. Their reasons for being scum is well explained.
American Hustles takes Option C by writing Irving and Sydney as survivalists.  These characters are con artists because they have both grown up knowing the world to be a cruel and corrupt place where survival is the only option.

The Misses
It’s pretty obvious that Amy Adams doesn’t curse often in real life.  Granted, cussing excessively isn’t exactly a desired talent, but if you are making a movie and you want your actors to use choice language, make sure that they’re convincing at it.  Also, and I don’t mean to pick on the talented Ms. Adams, but was her character written to be British or American?  She keeps changing her accent sporadically.  This makes sense when she is pretending to be Lady Edith Greensly, but when she keeps changing accents during an intense argument with Irving, it comes off as odd.
Oh, Bradley Cooper, I don’t like picking on you (I’ve done it three times now with Aloha, Burnt and Joy), but am I the only one who feels that Bradley Cooper didn’t have much to work with in this film?  Irving, Sydney and Rosalyn are fleshed-out, but Richie (Cooper) and Carmine (Renner) are only identifiable by their hairstyles and not by their personalities.
It has been said that you can make a good story about anything.  However, to pull this off, good writing is a requirement.  American Hustle is a case of great actors trying to make do with a scrambled story.  Just like Joy, American Hustle is the equivalent of walking in on an intense conversation between strangers and having absolutely no idea what’s being said.  I was totally lost during the first five minutes of American Hustle and that’s because it throws us into a convoluted argument between characters we’ve just met.  A storyteller doesn’t have to spell out every minute detail, but there need to be some clarity about what’s going on and what’s at stake.  I couldn’t be engaged in the story because it’s poorly structured with gigantic leaps in time and too many characters.  By the second act, scenes either go on for an eternity or move so quickly that you’ll miss something if you blink.

If you enjoy movies that showcase a large cast of A-list actors, then you might like American Hustle.  However, personally, I could only be invested for so long before the scattered story became difficult to follow and I just stop caring.

Saint Matthew, pray for us.

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