Starring: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams
Directed by: David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”)
Written by: David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”) and Eric Singer (“The International”)
As David O. Russell’s career trajectory continues to move upward, it seems he’s getting more freedom to make the films he wants to make. After the huge success of last year’s deeply personal “Silver Linings Playbook,” which garnered eight Oscar nominations and one win, Russell heads backs to the 70’s with the con-artist film, “American Hustle.”
“American Hustle” tells the story of con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his accomplice Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who are forced to work for FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) after they are caught running an illegal business. As more prominent people become involved and things become more dangerous when they try to bring down a local mayor (Jeremy Renner), too many loose ends, including Irving’s unpredictable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), could bring the entire operation to a head.
Much will be made of the cast, reuniting many veterans of Russell’s previous films and all principle actors being Oscar nominees or winners. As an admittedly impressive collection, the ensemble is certainly solid, but mostly unspectacular. Bale who gained nearly 50 pounds for the role is the best of the bunch, as a pudgy con artist with a terrible comb-over. As with many of his latest films, Bale disappears into the role and carries it with ease. Cooper is fine and Adams is hit or miss, with her fake but purposely imposed British accent becoming a little grating at times. For most of her career, Lawrence has been impressive at convincingly playing characters above her actual age. It might be the hair and costumes associated with the 70’s, or just her characters general life situation, but in “American Hustle,” Lawrence finally feels and looks too young for a role and is a little bit distracting.
“American Hustle” starts out with a bit of background on Bale and Adams’ characters and makes use of a dueling voiceover that bogs the film down and subsequently makes the film slow to get into. Once “American Hustle” gets going, Russell has a clear goal for presenting a playful and comedic tone, which is something that – for the most part – fails. Though the humor is a bit subtle, most of the jokes fall flat and there are only a few legitimate laughs in the film, mostly involving stand-up comedian Louis CK in a small role.
Russell does a few things right in the film. He nails the setting of the 70’s and there’s clearly an energy of filmmaking that transferred over to his actors. The issue here is that Russell appears to have had the intention of crafting something grander and more clever than what it actually is. Unfortunately for Russell, the film plays off as a by-the-numbers con movie and frankly, something akin to a second-rate Martin Scorsese film.