American Hustle

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by: Eric J. Grimm

 

 

Directed by David O. Russell. Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence.

 

David O. Russell’s sloppy filmmaking often works for contemporary films. His Silver Linings Playbook was fun, even if its sugary depiction of mental illness felt icky at points. He’s never made anything quite as enjoyable or messy as Flirting with Disaster, his zany screwball gem about a new parent trying to find his biological parents. His willingness to go all the way in service of crowd pleasing often makes continuity errors and terrible automated dialogue replacement excusable. Now that he’s one of Hollywood’s prestige directors, however, there does not seem to be an excuse for the rushed and boring American Hustle, a blob of a comedy that takes a minor historical event and makes it even more minor.

Christian Bale and Amy Adams try their best as con artists who help the FBI bring down corrupt politicians. Adams comes close to knocking it out of the park as a gorgeous trickster with the iciest stare imaginable, but Russell won’t let her have fun in the last hour of the film even as she struts in teased hair and low-cut dresses intended to disarm all the men around her. Bale’s accent makes his character a bore and any anguish he might experience is hidden behind big glasses and a hairpiece intended for cheap comedic bits. Bradley Cooper unwisely restrains himself as an FBI agent who should be maniacal but ends up being a wimpy excuse for the film’s villain.

It takes Jennifer Lawrence, with her noticeable lack of acting skill coupled with a confidence and fearlessness that make her gay catnip, to deliver the film’s genuine laughs. As a bored, alcoholic Long Island housewife, she toots her own horn, slips in and out of her accent, and brings the house down. Even when I get frustrated at her for not delivering pitch-perfect performances befitting her silver screen holiness, I marvel at how her personality tears through the screen. Clearly David O. Russell sees this as Lawrence’s only scenes that are breezy and hilarious. This is the only chance we get to see the zany comedy in which Russell once specialized.

American Hustle really fails when trying to tie these characters to each other. The relationships feel false, as if they’re taking a backseat to the costumes and Russell’s Scorcesean ambitions. Production of the film was fast-tracked earlier this year and it feels like it. Usually Russell’s messes are gleeful, but this one is just plain irritating and bespeaks a comfort with his own haphazard way of constructing a film.

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