American Hustle (2013)

Director:  David O. Russell
Cast:  Christian BaleAmy AdamsBradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner
Plot:  A con man, Irving Rosenfeld, along with his seductive British partner, Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso.  DiMaso pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.

Genre:  Crime / Drama 
Awards:  Nom. for 10 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Leading Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design.
Runtime:  138min
Rating:  M18 for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence.

“You're not nothing to me until you're everything.”

Writer-director David O. Russell is on a hot streak right now, with a hat-trick of wins that include The Fighter (2010), Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and his latest work American Hustle.  It’s safe to say that The Fighter re-invigorated his career, while Silver Linings Playbook  is to me his best film of the trio and my favourite movie of 2012. 

Considering all of that, American Hustle comes as a slight disappointment.  It is a decent film – solid and well-executed, but it lacks the buzzing energy of Russell’s previous two pictures.  It is certainly his most complex work to date, but it isn’t as entertaining or hilarious as critics have made it out to be.

Russell works with Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams again in this ensemble piece about a conman named Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and his lover Sydney Prosser (Adams) who are forced to work with a FBI agent played by Cooper.  There’s corruption, betrayal, outsmarting, loads of lies… in other words, a con-ception where there’s conning, double-conning and triple-conning. 

Russell’s screenplay is a concoction of wild dialogue and vivid characterizations, and coupled with the period styling of the 1970s and the astute use of songs of that era, the film recalls the likes of Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995) and Boogie Nights (1997).  In some way, American Hustle is best described as Scorsese-lite.  It dabbles with organized crime, though not as extensively (or excitingly) as some of Scorsese’s best works.  But you can see the homage. 

This is a laidback drama with bits of comedy, and while the sexy and playful tone is consistent, I find that the movie is unable to maintain its momentum.  Sometimes it builds up dramatically only to let the brewing energy dissipate, and it never reaches that level of energy or intrigue again.  You don’t feel that in Silver Linings Playbook or The Fighter.   Still, the performances are a force to behold, and I hope to see acting Oscar nominations galore, none more deservingly so than for the underrated Amy Adams.

American Hustle is worth a trip to the theater for fans of Russell and the cast.  My guess is that it won’t strike Oscar gold this time, nor is it the most absorbing piece of cinema this year.  But even when the rabbit is not pulled out of the hat, it does not mean you don’t clap.  You just don’t clap as loud.

Verdict:  It lacks the buzzing energy of Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, but Russell’s latest effort is a throwback to the 1970s with a touch of Scorsese-lite.


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