American Hustle stars Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, and Amy Adams’s boobs.
In the film, the actors act for a little over two hours. The director directs, sometimes even telling the camera guys and editors to “push in real close on that,” probably like he saw in Boogie Nights, or because, as they say, he is a pushy director.
Hustle is directed and co-written by David O. Russell. Davey O. has recently garnered critical and box office acclaim with his films The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook. Here he takes the cast from both these successful ventures and mashes them together in American Hustle.
Christian Bale plays Irving, a guy with a middle-aged pot belly and a horrendous comb-over, a character Bale has been wanting to play for a long time, to show fans how not-narcissistic he is. Adams and her breasts play Sydney, a woman who gets her pants pulled down in a bathroom stall, a salacious role very different from the girl in Enchanted who just wants everything to be beautiful.
In the film, the screenwriters write. Thus, the characters talk and talk, but not in a Quentin Tarantino sort of way – they’re supposed to be saying something meaningful. The premise in Hustle is about a man named Irving (Bale), who is a small time con-artist, someone who has crafted a business out of predatory lending, but who never actually lends the money he’s supposed to deliver for the $5,000 deposits. And the writers never tell us what happens to the hundreds of people he’s ripped off, how he’s able to keep the same office, and a family, even if he uses a fake name. Maybe it’s because a woman named Sydney, who becomes his partner and his lover (Adams), uses a phony British accent when they rip people off. That always works.
Jennifer Lawrence plays Irving’s wife, Rosalyn, a snarky little dynamo, and provides about the only entertainment in this otherwise long, boring film. Cooper plays the agent, Richie, who catches Irving and Sydney in the act, and gets them working for the FBI.
The soundtrack plays like vinyl in the background at one of Davey O.’s favorite parties from when he was twenty. Sometimes it works – there’s a fun dance scene in a night club with some killer disco music – but, speaking of Tarantino, something Quentin would call bullshit on – this feels like putting in period music as an artifice, a way to cheat your audience into their suspension of disbelief. Sometimes the music is so happy and fun it plays right over scenes that it shouldn’t, drowning out the already thin storyline.
Perhaps that’s what the random, unmotivated voice-overs are for; each of the three principals – Irving, Sydney, and Richie the Fed – have a voice-over in the film, but none of what any of the disembodied voices say with their over-the-top Jersey accents provide any additional information about the story or insight into their characters.
Mostly, these characters work on scamming one another, confusing the audience about who loves whom and what’s real and what’s a con. So, you never get to see any cops coming in to take someone down, not until the very end, and then it’s a couple of congressman who were honestly trying to do the right thing. Robert Deniro’s cameo is misspent – his gravitas and menace takes us to a brink that almost scares us in an anti-climactic scene. Finally, while Jeremy Renner plays a good Carmine, the Mayor, at least forty-five minutes of screen time are sucked up as Irving befriends him, and they take the wives out for Chicken Piccata, and Irving wrestles with his conscience about putting the whammy on this guy he generally likes, and still, nothing quite happens.
Maybe the real Hustle is what O. Russell pulled on the studios after his last two zinger films, flying this one without any supervision or oversight. It’s a good con, and I bought the ticket, after all.