Thursday, 2 January 2014

Film Review: American Hustle (2013)

Director: David O. Russell
Writers: Eric Singer and David O. Russell
Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner

On the surface, American Hustle is enjoyable enough. Great performances, silly wigs, camp 70s outfits, several laughs, and a killer soundtrack are peppered throughout the film meaning there is always something to enjoy visually or audibly. However, the film is turns out to be nothing more than just fun, and struggles to hold the attention, often weighed down by attempts at being something it clearly is not.

Based partly on actual events, the film tries to tell the story of an FBI sting operation to catch US officials taking bribes in an operatic style with five central characters, all played by famous faces. We have Christian Bale packing on the pounds with a ridiculous combover, there’s Amy Adams as his partner wearing an array of cleavage-busting outfits, and we have Bradley Cooper as a cocky and over-reaching FBI agent leading the investigations. Add to this Jeremy Renner as one of the officials being set up, and Jennifer Lawrence as Bale’s loose cannon wife, director David O. Russell has rounded up plenty of talent whose job is, quite frankly, to paper over the cracks of a screenplay which has precious little intrigue, excitement, or interest.

The film is tonally uneven, never sure if it’s supposed to make us laugh or be high drama from one scene to the next. The biggest issue I had was that the film never made me care for what is happening and that is down to too many central characters, relationship triangles, and a distinct lack of focus on what the film wants to be. Despite the consistently strong performances, there are too few stand out scenes in the (needlessly long) 140 minutes running time; a genuinely tense sense with a cameo from Robert De Niro and a great showdown between Bale and Renner are the only two scenes which really stuck with me which suggests, ultimately, nothing really mattered once the credits rolled and American Hustle is just a string of well acted scenes without anything underpinning the visuals.

American Hustle has no identity of its own, and that is a huge letdown from a director who is so highly regarded. After seven films David O. Russell’s career has been of varied quality, but despite becoming a ‘big name’ in recent years with multiple award nominations, he’s never come close to the recapturing the brilliance he showed in Three Kings in 1999, and American Hustle often looks like a director trying to copy the king of these multi-character crime pictures, Mr Martin Scorsese.

The quick dolly shot to an actor’s face (used several time on Amy Adams), the stedicam shots around an actor, the pop soundtrack, the use of voiceover throughout the film; it all screams out that this film wants, so desperately, to remind us of Goodfellas, Casino, or even P.T Anderson’s Boogie Nights that Russell will use every trick we’ve seen so many times before in far superior films. There are several scenes where a pop song plays over images, trying to bring about the emotion or audience connection required to make it work, but it never does. It all feels very false, like the characters in the film, but I don’t believe this was the intention, for the intention is clearly to be a big, sweeping film in these scenes.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: It is fun, it is well acted, and the soundtrack is well worth listening to. Other than that, American Hustle is left wanting and will have to go down as one of the biggest disappointments of 2013, because I was expecting far more than what we got.

1 comment:

  1. Wide characters, deep storytelling, bad hair and a great 1970s soundtrack fill this stylishly seductive comedy about small time con artists working their way up the food chain.