American Hustle is David O. Russell’s third film in four or so years to be critically lauded and heaped with awards praise. Following The Fighter in 2010 and last year’s Silver Linings Playbook, Russell’s been on a roll and has seemed to reinvigorate himself in this new stage of his career. The thing is, everybody always seems to love these films a lot more than me. Make no mistake, I very much enjoyed all three of these films, but never to that next level, and never thought any were even close to being Academy Award level (outside of Bale in The Fighter). The Fighter was a great story, and something I was interested in, but never thought it was wholly amazing a film, with Wahlberg’s very average and mediocre portrayal of Mickey Ward brining things down. I enjoyed the performances in Silver Linings Playbook, but it became a little to rom-comy for me. American Hustle was seemingly right up my alley, with the cast, the crime element and all the praise being heaped on it, which left me of two minds after seeing the film.
First off, I don’t know who labeled this film as a drama, because it’s most definitely a comedy. I guess it has the framework of a dramatic story and such, but it’s just a string of jokes and wacky humour. Not that that’s a bad thing, it gives the film a very odd and appealing viewpoint on everything, never taking all the serious “dramatic” stuff that squarely, and just in general having fun. There’s definitely a beefed up sense of style from Russell, playing off the ‘70s theme, with not only extravagant clothes, hair and mise-en-scene, but as well his camera work. There’s snap zooms aplenty, some canted angles, and odd camera placements, that absolutely suit the mirrored subject matter and presentation of content. Of course, any movie that’s set in the ‘70s is guaranteed to have an amazing soundtrack, and one that just added to the coolness factor of many scenes. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is made somehow even better, and Jennifer Lawrence has some fun with “Live And Let Die.”
The acting is was uniformly good overall, nobody blew me away, but it was solid work all around. Christian Bale was a little more subdued than we usually see him in his performances, but that was just like his character, the quiet and calculated one, his own brand of cool. Jeremy Renner was fine, although I think he was miscast. I know the role was written for him, but he just looked out of place, and I never really bought him as this character, and only really connected to him through the scenes of his friendship with Bale’s character. I never really liked Bradley Cooper in general as an actor, but just like with Matthew McConaughey, he’s picking some good and consistent roles, is being picky, and has been going up in my books. He got a fun role here, where he simultaneously was the attractive “cool” guy, but also a bit weird and off kilter that gave his character some nice shading and gave Cooper a bit more meat in his role. Amy Adams was great as she always is, and made even better by the skimpy clothing she wore in literally every scene. I’m a guy, and I can’t really not talk about how it looked like her breasts were going to fall out in any given scene, so pretty much if you got bored with a certain scene, just drift your eyes over to Adams and you’re set. Jennifer Lawrence was having a ton of fun as Bale’s kooky and kinda stupid wife, and really gives the stand-out memorable performance from the film, which I wasn’t really expecting.
I read somewhere that David O. Russell doesn’t really care about story, because he makes films about and for characters. I don’t know how true it is, but I did have some reservations on how the plot was handled and doled out. It was pretty basic, and a loose framework to act under, with several massaging of the imagination and choreographed happenings. Put simply it felt “written” in the spots that were meant to push the plot along, everything fit into a nice little slot, and worked out perfectly for all, or went all to shit simply because the story called for it and we had to move on to the next act of our narrative. The story gets wrapped up pretty quickly with some questionably easy machinations, that seemed like the writers were like “Oh, yeah, I guess we gotta end the main story now, huh?” Playing off this they have a mini-twist, again to expediate the end, that doesn’t really work because it stretches some areas of the law and I guess the mafia just kind of forgets that they got screwed with earlier, because the mafia apparently easily forgets crosses or grudges. Hey, but Amy Adams in a low-cut dress!