David O Russell is back with all his favourite players nicely arranged. Out of five main characters only Jeremy Renner hasn’t worked with Russell before. Of the others, all four gained Oscar nominations or wins last time they worked with Russell so you can see why they’re back.
American Hustle is the story of two con artists who are forced to team up with the FBI to con more con artists into giving themselves up. It sets up a bizarre, unclear dynamic between every character. Russell gives us a situation where everyone is scamming everyone else but strangely the audience is in on it. It’s like the opposite of The Sting, when the plot finally falls together it’s not a surprise, it’s just the inevitable comeuppance for whoever the protagonists didn’t like.
American Hustle is slick and smarmy as foreshadowed by the intertitle that flashes up on screen before the film starts. “Some of this actually happened.” If ever there was a sign that you’re about to watch something self-satisfied and ‘quirky’ that is it. Bemusingly the film seems to be billed as a comedy, critics have been describing it as “hilarious”, “uproarious” even. Now I think we can all agree that I am a hardened cynic, but I watched this film in a huge cinema that was totally full. One guy laughed once. American Hustle just isn’t funny. Maybe I’m watching it in the wrong country, maybe this truly is an all-American film that’s only funny on the other side of the Atlantic. Either way if I was meant to be carried along on a wave of humour and entertainment, I wasn’t. Instead the film just seemed to be filled with the awkward knowledge that some of these appalling stereotypes and contrived nothings were meant to be funny.
It really feels as if the cast gets drowned in this film. Christian Bale is unrecognisable in his role as Irving Rosenfield, an aging conman earning enough to support a wife (Jennifer Lawrence), child and mistress (Amy Adams). Adams’ performance is not as good as Bale, mainly due to a slightly patchy English accent (an accent that has some plot points resting on it) but she’s solid throughout. Unfortunately, the costume department seemed desperate to make sure that Adams’ breasts get almost as much screen time as her face. To her credit Adams does manage to pull off still being a believable and interesting character in spite of the mission to objectify the personality right out of her. Jeremy Renner, who seems to be largely typecast as a brooding action hero is fantastic as a bumbling, naïve politician that gets the raw end of the scam. But despite these performances they all seem wasted in a pretty mediocre film.
The production design is totally flawless, from the cinematography to the sets and even the costumes, everything screams late-seventies glamour and corruption. The hair styles range from the impressive to the bizarre with Christian Bale sporting an “elaborate” comb-over and Bradley Cooper seen styling his hair into tiny ringlets. Jennifer Lawrence is given a mass of half-highlighted hair that sits primly on her head at all times. However the real award goes to Jeremy Renner for acting through the mile high quiff he was given. These choices wouldn’t seem so odd if these characters were the quirky, hilarious stereotypes they are meant to be but, as established, they’re not really that funny, they just look funny. All in all it doesn’t actually add up as a complete film, there’s nothing to carry through the emotion in the film. There’s not enough humour, or suspense or even human drama to make this film not feel overlong.
- Entertainment: 2/5
- Artistic: 4/5
- Intellectual: 2/5