by Coop Cooper
In 1970’s New York, con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) discovers a new partner in the alluring and ambitious Sydney (Amy Adams). While they pull off scores and form a romantic relationship, Rosenfeld strains his relationship with his irresponsible wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who uses their young son to keep Rosenfeld under her thumb. When FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) busts Sydney and Rosenfeld in a sting, he strong-arms the couple into a series of undercover cons to entrap some corrupt political figures as part of the infamous ABSCAM operation. They inadvertently become involved with some frightening underworld figures and get in over their heads. Meanwhile, Rosalyn’s loose lips threaten to ruin everything.
This genre of film is an actor’s dream. They get to dress up in outrageous outfits, practice new accents, speak a bunch of grandiose monologues, chew the scenery, do a lot of yelling, strut down the street while wearing sunglasses, hand off briefcases full of money and work alongside a bunch of their A-list pals. To me, they are too often full of cliches and an exercise and tedium. Instead of characters, they play caricatures that come across as laughable when the audience is supposed to buy into their ‘elevated’ performances. There’s even a scene early on where Bale and Adams spend a lot of time trying on an entire wardrobe of bad 70’s fashion statements. Seems mighty self-indulgent to me and how about this gem of a narrated line: “She was the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate.” That’s supposed to pass for good dialogue? Give me a break.
Amy Adams is excellent as usual but her accent is all over the place, especially when she feigns a fake English accent as part of her deception. Bale plays the least interesting character but he does so with his usual chameleon-like precision. Cooper is the least-likeable character of the leads but he’s so inclined to comedy that his character becomes too much of a buffoon to fit the role. The whole film feels largely miscast and I would have almost preferred it had a lighter comedic tone since the film slides into silly territory fairly often.
Jennifer Lawrence seems to be on a higher level than the rest of the cast. She’s the only one who doesn’t seem to be playing an over-the-top character. The movie suddenly gets more interesting every time she appears on screen, especially when her character shows her vindictive side halfway through the film.
Director David O. Russell has a strange and interesting filmography, especially for last year’s wonderful “Silver Linings Playbook” which got him both a Best Directing and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination. While I thought his 2010 award-winning film “The Fighter” was overrated, he has more wins than losses in my book. “American Hustle” suffers from a few of the same problems as “The Fighter”, and I can’t say I liked it much better.
This film wants to be many things: A Scorsese-styled crime flick, a fetishistic 70’s film, a character-driven drama, a heist flick but overall it’s an unoriginal film that takes itself way too seriously. It spends so much time wallowing in its stylistic excesses that the simplistic story drowns in it. Nearly all of the characters are too vile and sleazy to be likable.
Cartoonishly bad wigs, a relentless soundtrack of 70’s songs in the background, excessive narration, bad accents, sleaze and swagger… It’s an unattractive film but although it starts off shaky, but improves some towards the end. Jennifer Lawrence’s presence spices things up and I liked how her character shakes up the plot but she’s just not in the film enough. She will get an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress yet again.
For a lot of people, this film is right up their alley and many will enjoy the heck out it. Personally, I feel like I’ve seen this film many times before and I liked it better when it was called “Goodfellas/Casino/Boogie Nights/Ocean’s 11”.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars