You have to hand it to American Hustle for taking its breadth of talent and just letting them run with every scene. Writer/director David O. Russell has gathered the finest cast of the year (including Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, who hit the jackpot last year in Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook) and placed them in a darkly funny crime caper, but this narrative is all over the place. If you dig stories with cons on top of cons on top of cons, you’re in luck, but the whole thing doesn’t gel well enough to put it in the top rung of 2013 releases.
Christian Bale, on a diet of what looks to be exclusively pancakes and gravy, plays Irving Rosenfeld, a career con man going all the way back to when he was a kid and broke windows to help his dad’s glass business. He meets and falls in love with Sydney Prosser (Adams), another swindler, and the two form a fraud syndicate of sorts. The problem is that Irving has a wife, Rosalyn (Lawrence), who’s pretty much insane and uses their adopted son a reason not to grant him a divorce. Irving and Rosalyn get busted by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper), but they arrange a deal: If Irving and Sydney can use their skills to nab four criminals for him, they can go free. The three come up with a daring investment scam to bring down New Jersey mayor Carmine Polito (Renner), but the plan quickly blows up to include mobsters and other undesirables. Lies breed lies, right?
Even with its relatively poor pacing and a mumbling Bale, American Hustle is compulsively watchable thanks to the star power alone. All sport absurd late 70’s haircuts and the acting goes over-the-top at approximately the same pace as the story. It’s a lot of fun to watch even as the film tries to juggle comedy, drama, and the finer details of the plot. Jennifer Lawrence is the show-stopper in a role that Russell wrote specifically for her, and it only gets crazier when she injects herself into the scam as an unwanted accomplice.
American Hustle seems to be getting compared to Goodfellas, but I see it more in the vein of Ocean’s Eleven. It’s a bunch of stars in a bold scam with a bunch of double-crosses. It maintains the same light tone and doesn’t make the mistake of taking itself too seriously. With a tighter plot and more consistent tone, American Hustle could have had a shot at greatness. It’s still recommended entertainment and worth the watch for Lawrence alone.
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Length: 129 Minutes
Rating: R for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence.
Theatrical Release: December 13, 2013 (Limited) / December 20, 2013 (Wide)
Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: Eric Singer & David O. Russell
Cast: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence