American Hustle (2013)
Directed by: David O. Russell
Synopsis: Two con artists (Bale and Adams) get pinched by the feds (Cooper) who in turn makes a deal to work with them for a big sting operation involving members of congress. Meanwhile, Bale’s comb-over fights crime in Gotham City.
What ‘Works’: Amy Adams shined in this role actually. All the other actors will probably be nominated a dozen times for their acting but I disagree with that. But if Adams is nominated I have no problem with it. She made a memorable role in her con artist Syndey and I look forward to her future roles. The soundrack. All great 70s golden oldies which played at key points in the film which makes the moment seem way better than actually scripted or shot. Robert DeNiro has a small cameo in this and its easily his best role in 10 years. In fact, there’s a quick 10 second flashback involving him killing someone and that scene is easily his best role in decades. If Judi Dench could win an oscar for her 8 minutes in Shakespeare in Love then DeNiro should win for his 10 second hit-man scene. What else did I like…um, um, um, oh yeah, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence’s wardrobe.
What ‘Doesn’t Work’: I did not enjoy this movie. Right off the bat it seemed like a bad and lame homage to Goodfellas. Obviously the New York setting and 70s time frame involving criminals but it also had the multi-character narration and origin-of-a-criminal flashback when Bale is describing how he became a con artist when he was a kid. While this seems like a nit-pick in the beginning of the film and could have easily been glossed over and forgiven by the story’s plot and performances if they were as great as the critics and most audiences make it out to be. This film is as underwhelming as a story as they come. The performances are all over-the-top and ridiculous with awfully two-diminensional dialogue to go along with it. I cannot find the source of the quote, however on imdb trivia for this film, most of the dialogue was improvised. So much so that Christian Bale told director, David O. Russell that: “You realize that this is going to change the plot greatly down track.” To which the Russell replied, “Christian, I hate plots. I am all about characters, that’s it.” Seriously? That’s something I would expect Brett Ratner or Michael Bay to say to an actor. I hate plots? You’re in the storytelling business B-hole! We’re not buying a ticket to see some prima donnas improvise being asshole con artists and FBI agents with delusions of grandeur. THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH! The story is so convoluted and confusing and boring that I dare anyone to tell me a proper synopsis of the actual plot. I think Bale was right and that they made it up as they went along.
I also feel that this film was made with the same enthusiasm and aesthetic as a high school student who just binge-watched most of Scorsese and Peckinpah films. At some points in this film it felt like it was a crime movie adaptation by the Max Fischer players from Rushmore they were so two-dimensional. There’s scenes that I eye-rolled to in amazement because they were obvisiously there to stun or shock us like a kiss from Lawrence’s character to Adams when they are rivals and were just fighting in the ladies room. It makes zero sense. Another scene Lawrence is loudly singing along to “Live and Let Die” while intensely cleaning the house. Again, why? It didn’t further drive the plot and just looked like a “cool” thing to do—an award show clip, if I should be so bold. Another example is Adams screaming while taking a piss in a bathroom stall after she pledges “no more bullshit” to Bradley Cooper. Why is she screaming while urinating? Your guess is as good as mine. Like I can somewhat see the artistic/dramatic decision to have her scream at such an exciting event in her storyline but not so much with a pan up from the floor while she’s going number one. Just so much of an odd choice.
Tonally, this film is a mess. I’m at a loss if it was supposed to be satirical or at least supposed to be really funny and poking fun at all these characters or if the aim was more dramatic in nature. Sure, I laughed at some stuff but mostly because I was laughing at it. Comedian Louis C.K. was funny but mostly because it was Louis C.K. and why-is-he-in-this-movie kind of funny. Adams and Cooper have a “contract” to only sleep with each other when the sting operation is over and a few scenes later Cooper practically begs Adams for sex in the silliest and pathetic way imaginable. Now I’m no dummy but I think I wasn’t suppose to laugh at what seemed like a very dramatic scene (Adams looked serious at least).
This film also seemed to me that it tried so hard to make the late 70s a character in itself. All the 70s clichés were there and way too much in your face that it was distracting. It was borderline annoying. When Cooper asks Adams on a date to go dancing in a club, guess what club they go to: Studio 54. It’s unnecessary and lame to bring up such lowest-common denominator references in such a movie these days. In another scene Renner’s character gives Bale a gift of a microwave oven. Bale didn’t even know what it was. The countertop microwave oven was around for at least a decade before the time of this film. In the next scene his dopey wife, Lawrence puts in a metal tray of food and nearly burns the house down. I’m shocked KC and the Sunshine Band didn’t make a cameo in this film. Boogie Nights did a much much better job telling a great entertaining story with tons of memorable scenes and quotes set in the same era of time as American Hustle without relying on so much fashion and pop culture references.
Overall: Whatever I say about this movie is mostly moot since it will win a slew of awards anyway and make me look like a grumpy philistine for not liking the “best movie of the year.” I really have no trouble with that though since I feel in my hearts-of-hearts that I have valid points in not liking this movie. And its not as if I hated it—It’s worse actually in that I was bored and unentertained and have zero desire to see it again or recommend it to other people. I’m at the point in my life that I would rather be entertained by a good compelling story with fine acting and great cinematography than a mediocre story with “great” acting that goes nowhere and makes me roll my eyes at odd performances and that makes me glance at my watch every 25 minutes. It’s like what Billy Shakespeare said: “…full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”
I’ve seen most David O. Russell movies and have only seen them once because I never love them and they have no repeat value for me. I’ve been a lone minority about not caring about The Fighter also. I could be in the minority here again with American Hustle but to me this film has very little value in the cinematic world. I can run off over a dozen memorable scenes from other great movies and in this film, I can only tell you how much detail went into Bale’s and Cooper’s hair.
Score: 5 COMB-OVERS (out of 10)