Film review: Despite an A-list cast, American Hustle stumbles

Director David O. Russell reunites with Bradley Cooper (left) and Christian Bale for the ’70s con artist flick, American Hustle. Director David O. Russell reunites with Bradley Cooper (left) and Christian Bale for the ’70s con artist flick, American Hustle.

American Hustle is, in some circles, being touted as a masterpiece. It’s easy to see why. Good cast (Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner). Respected director (David O. Russell, who had a major hit with Cooper and Lawrence and Silver Linings Playbook). And crime in the 1970s: Wide ties! Bad hair! Good music!

Unfortunately, American Hustle is no masterpiece. It’s a bore. It’s a fictionalized account of Abscam, a late 1970s, early 1980s FBI sting that, in real life, resulted in convictions for about a half-dozen members of Congress (including a senator). Great. Here in the movies, it’s an excuse for Russell to get together with his pals—all the stars with names above the title have worked with Russell before, save Renner—and have their characters shout at each other while the camera moves quickly and often.

It’s exhausting. There are no stakes. There are wigs and braless dresses and fat suits and perms. There is nothing resembling a compelling character or story.

American Hustle has the bones of a good movie. Bale (doing a ham-fisted Robert De Niro-lite, if two such opposing choices can live within one performance) is Irving Rosenfeld, a Bronx-born dry cleaner owner and con man who scams dopes into giving him money with false promises of providing big loans. He’s joined by Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a con woman who fakes an English accent and lures the dopes with her good looks.

Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) is a low-level FBI agent who’s on to Sydney’s game. He arrests her. In order to avoid prison, she agrees to help Richie set up a sting. She gets Rosenfeld to help. He and Richie hate each other. Shouting ensues!

Then there’s Lawrence. In a classic case of miscasting, she’s a mid-30s shrew of a housewife, married to Rosenfeld and determined to make his life difficult. And despite her miscasting, she’s good—Lawrence has the talent—but there’s just nothing believable about her marriage to Rosenfeld, her jealousy of Sydney, and the way she plays him to get what she wants.

Oh, and Renner is the mayor of Camden, New Jersey. He’s modeled, sort of, on then-mayor Angelo Errichetti, whom he looks nothing like. But he does some shouting (a Russell mainstay).

Maybe American Hustle is itself a hustle. Maybe the filmmakers, including Russell and co-writer Eric Singer, got together and said, “Hey, we’ll do this movie with big stars. And then we won’t give them anything to do. But we’ll move the camera a lot and we’ll have them scream at the tops of their lungs, and everyone will think we made art.”

That’s a big maybe; the screenplay’s authors have an “and” between their names, indicating they didn’t collaborate. Maybe Russell conned himself into thinking he made a great movie. In reality, it’s dull. There are entire scenes when Adams stands there with nothing to do. And it also has a garish trick ending that’s straight from the school of lazy plotting.

One bright note: Comedian Louis C.K. plays Cooper’s haggard boss, and he’s excellent. He’s the one person not in on the joke, playing his character straight and hitting the right tone.

Skip American Hustle. Re-watch Goodfellas.

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  • Movie buff

    Bale was brilliant!!! Movie is awesome! Go see it now!!! Music was great! Everyone was so good!

  • Mickey MacD

    I’d have to disagree. It might not be a masterpiece. But maybe it is. All the signs are there. Not many movies have the theme threaded into every aspect of the film. If the theme is “reinvention.” He sews that mother up. From the very beginning scene, Irving meticulously glueing his comb over, to Amy Adam’s fake British and non-consistent accent. They are fooling no one and everyone at the same time with that comb over and that fake accent. As Irving says, something in the way of “people want to be fooled,” and/or “people believe what they want to believe.” You believe this a bad movie. I don’t. Re-invention shows up everywhere in this film, and is why they con in the first place, to survive and become something better than they are. Characters that if they didn’t have the balls would’ve stayed marginalized by society. And if you have the patience and eye (which is what a film critic should be doing – not saying you don’t- but most don’t) you will see how tightly put together this script actually is, in its character storytelling, which leads to its theme. Which leads to a great, albeit not completely original movie. Done 4 or 5 other times. Not talking about the story (I’m sure that’s been done a thousand times) but what I like to call bravado filmmaking. The films to me are Goodfellas, Casino, Boogie Nights, and on a lesser degree maybe a film like Blow. Movies that celebrate film and and its ability to embrace the visceral and visual power of the medium itself. I add this one to that list. It may not deserve to be there yet, but maybe I can place it beside “Blow” for now. Nah, it’s much better than that. And doesn’t deserve to brushed off without insightful consideration. If then, you still hate it. Fine.

    • Ariel Morgan

      Are you mental?

      LMFAO, kids are reading way too deeply into this film because they were told to.

      There are hardly any compelling reasons to care about the film AS IT IS HAPPENING.

      You people can backtrack and call it a masterpiece when there is literally nothing of substance from start to finish, so long as you elaborate on all the “Deep and nuanced points” that are hardly ever brought out through acting, story or PACING.

      There is nothing to this substance less movie. It is shallow and slow with no payout and no surprises and worst of all, NO FUCKING COMEDY.
      The movie is a fairy tale of good actors yelling and lying to each other about shit no one can care about.

      If you want to say the whole movie was great because everyone was lying to each other and that’s the point, then good for you. You could prolly read DR. Suess and think it’s a guide to life and that it’s deep and nuanced. Dr. Suess delivers more frequently and honestly than this film.

      How is yelling and cussing about shit good acting? Not once did I feel anyone convince me I was watching a movie. I didn’t feel sucked into it and that is solely on the director and production. The movie is a complete mess on a technical level. And its an atrocity as far as pacing and plot.

      The movie was a sham. The biggest Hustle was getting idiots to love it to death.

  • Mickey MacD

    oh yeah it says right in the movie that Lawrence’s character is very young

  • MM

    David Reidel’s review is complely accurate. This movie was a bore, the movie has no cloths!

  • Ryan

    Great Review. This moview was bad. It was soooo long and soooo boring.

  • Bob

    Completely disagree. Some people just can’t handle a dialogue driven movie. If there are no massive explosions or someone trying to take over the world. They say its boring. To each his own.

    • Ariel Morgan

      Not an ounce of worthy dialogue.

      For a movie with a lot of talking, the characters are either lying to each other, the audience or themselves. There is no payout to hearing them talk, no reason to care about the mindless talking.

      It was abundantly clear what was going on the whole time and yet the plot STILL feels convoluted and miss-paced. This movie had 4 editors? How?

      This is likely the worst movie I have seen with so much talking. They never ever compel, they only bullshit to the next scene (which is not any bit better than the one before it).

      You cannot care for words if you don’t care for the characters speaking them, the events they are speaking about or the characters they are talking about. There is no reason to, and there is no coherent way to actually appreciate the characters in this movie, as they are almost entirely undeveloped outside of a singular boring aspect.

      For start to finish, turn the “Snooze” button to “On”. Or save your time and watch a real, coherent, film.

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