American Hustle

American Hustle

  • Though it must overcome significant flaws, American Hustle succeeds.
  • Mostly because the film’s tremendous cast never disappoints, sometimes despite their director’s interference. Jennifer Lawrence (Rosalyn Rosenfeld) and Jeremy Renner (Carmine Polito) steal the show from American Hustle’s astonishing leads, which is no small achievement.
  • Especially because the leads are also captivating. Christian Bale (Irving Rosenfeld), Amy Adams (Sydney Prosser) and Bradley Cooper (Richie Damaso) never miss a beat either.
  • All five actors could be nominated for acting Oscars. Four could win, and many viewers would understand.
  • Which says nothing about Robert De Niro (in a beguiling cameo), Allesandro Nivola, Michael Pena, Shea Whigman, Louis CK or the other talented actors in minor roles. 2013 has been a year for quality performances, but American Hustle is easily the finest ensemble of the year.
  • As effective as the actors: the humor. American Hustle is riotously funny.
  • It is also emotional. When Richie (Cooper) threatens someone he shouldn’t, for example, we feel both angry and scared, even as we’re laughing. Obviously, the cast owns credit for blending the two elements so well, but so do Writer/Director David O. Russell and Co-Writer Eric Singer.
  • Their script develops its characters well enough that each works.
  • Russell also wisely keeps his camera stationary much of the time, limits cuts and lets scenes develop naturally in extended takes. He gets the best out of his actors by not interfering, by letting them work.
  • Yet, writer and director produce the film’s greatest weaknesses, as well, starting with an overly expository introduction that spans too much screen time and relies on too much voice over from three different characters.
  • That latter problem plagues most of the movie. Employed frequently, voice over defines relationships and characters before images and actors show them. Within the first several minutes of the movie, for instance, we are told Rosalyn (Lawrence) is a passive aggressive manipulator even though we haven’t yet seen it. We are told Sydney (Adams) and Irving (Bale) are soul mates before we see them interact outside of montage. And so forth. It’s as if Russell doesn’t trust himself (or his cast) to show us pertinent information, so he tells it to us first, just to be safe.
  • Which is a shame. Because even if Russell had skipped the voice over altogether, we would know everything it tells us. Such is Russell’s storytelling skill throughout the rest of the movie.
  • The voice over’s mistakes are replicated by American Hustle’s soundtrack. While the songs appropriately set tone, they are often unnecessary, meaning Russell relies on too much music to cue the audience.
  • For all of that American Hustle remains a very good feature. In addition to the actors, character development, humor and emotion, the plot is engrossing, even if it is sometimes outlandish.
  • The costuming, makeup, set pieces and other period details help develop the narrative.
  • Perhaps most importantly, American Hustle is always fun.
  • Final Grade: B+

20 thoughts on “American Hustle

  1. Nice review! You liked this a little more than me (I gave it 144/200, which is a low B I think? Even I’m not entirely sure) but it sounds like we have pretty similar thoughts; I actually found that Russell’s camera movement was a tad overdone and occasionally distracting, but I agree that the cast was great and the screenplay had next-to-no faith in the audience or the cast.

    • I’ll go with 144/200 being a low B. It’s your scoring system, after all. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      And I agree. This one dumb itself down farther than it needs to. I think that a shame, but I also think the quality cast and humor overcomes it to produce a compelling whole, if not a great one.

    • I wondered of you’d seen it. Checked your blog for a review, but didn’t find one.

      Now I know you have. And I agree. I like it a lot, the handful of flaws notwithstanding.

  2. Excellent review. I might check this out should we ever get it over here! Looks like it is worth it, and that is a really good cast to check for at the very least!

    • Definitely worth it. Russell and Singer dumb down the script a bit more than they needed to, but they still produce a riotous whole that is certainly worth viewing. When you get the chance, you won’t be disappointed.

  3. Keen to see this – some interesting points. I think this and The Wolf Of Wall Street are out here soon, I’ll give both a go.

  4. You captured the main flaw I had with the film. The narration featured some truly dreadful lines and wasn’t necessary. I could have mentioned the cameos but the main cast were astonishing and I could barely take my eyes off them. And yes, the humour was oustanding.

    Great review as ever

    • Thank you very much.

      And yeah, I think the voice over here proves the axiom often writers often hear when composing their first screenplay: Voice over can kill your movie.

      The voice over here does everything it can to off American Hustle. I guess it’s a testament to the filmmakers that it doesn’t succeed, but it comes close, at times.

  5. Every review i’ve been reading features some mention of the cameos but De Niro and co’s appearances were a really small part for me.

    I’m also not sure i’ll be able to look at a microwave or ice fishing in the same way again ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Thank you. And me too.

      I think this one is likely to be very disappointed. Lawrence is the favorite in her category, but I think American Hustle could get shut out in every other category. It is facing fierce such sharp competition. But we’ll see.

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