“You set a crook to catch a crook. We put the big honey pot out there and all the flies came to us”. This was said by Mel Weinberg in 1981. Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld whom is entirely based on Mel, and the above statement is expanded and elaborated on as the plot of American Hustle. However, it’s the moment you see Irving taking more than five minutes to put a wig on that we realise very few crooks will be harmed in the telling of this story. My review after the jump.
Irving (Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are con artists, they swindle desperate people whom owe debt for reasonably large sums of money promising them an interest on their money back. They’re a great team and they’re also in love, despite Irving having a young wife (Jennifer Lawrence) and son at home. Their jig however is soon up when they’re busted by FBI agent Richie DiMasso (Bradley Cooper) an unpredictable and hyperactive man whose ambition far exceeds his means. In return for their freedom, Richie proposes to both Irving and Sydney that he help them make four busts, catching out crooks and cretins taking or giving bribes. Despite some reluctance, they agree and all is set in motion. They’re plan however is soon jeopardised when Richie hopes to broaden his horizons and take down more than just local petty thugs thus risking all of their lives and freedom in the process.
After I Heart Huckabees in 2004 didn’t quite, in his opinion turn out the way he had hoped, David O’Russell spent a good amount of time writing and waiting until that comeback project came along. That film was The Fighter in 2010 which was then followed by Silver Linings Playbook last year and now American Hustle. Both Fighter and Silver Linings are very different pictures from the usually philosophical and hyperactive O’Russell style to which we were accustomed. Three Kings and Huckabees are in this reviewer’s opinion, masterpieces, that feed on insanity and have far more to say than his more recent work. O’Russell is one of the great writer/directors currently working for his insistence and fascination with characters incorporating their mundane activities in ventures, that in the grand scheme of things, is bigger than them. So where does Hustle fit among this list of mostly great work? American Hustle is the film that integrates both his former and current styles with energy, fascination and endearment. It’s almost a masterpiece… Except for one crucial flaw which this reviewer could not abide.
The performances from EVERYONE is stand out, including and especially Jeremy Renner as the mayor of New Jersey. Each actor convinces you of every feeling and thought along the plot’s proceedings. The screenplay written by O’Russell is at times a touch elaborate with its use of voice over, but the dialogue and plot/character integration and pace are exceptionally great. It’s funny, sad and beyond genre classification, like most great films are which focus on their story rather than possible audience demographics. But best of all, the soundtrack and set pieces are perfect, exactly right for a film set in 1978, with songs utilised in the best ways imaginable. With the sweet and vibrant palette most films made in the mid to late 70’s gave off and evidently shot on beautiful 35mm, it feels like 1978, not an easy era to capture and convince an audience with.
It was all there to be a masterpiece, but the one true downfall, and the sign of O’Russell’s change in perspective as a director… The female characters.
Amy Adam’s Sydney Prosser is a desperate character, an interesting one on surface-level and convincingly strong through Adam’s performance, is brought down by her use in the story. The trick with a great story involving con artists is to avoid old tricks and simplicity. If we as an audience have seen and heard them before, then surely the characters before us too have. To have Adams, a character who has potential depth parade around the entire film as eye candy (not one scene reveals her to be aware of the invention of a bra) and as a distraction to the ugly (pot bellies, hair pieces, curlers) men whom dribble at the sight of her, it feels cheap and the waste of a perfectly strong presence. As for Lawrence, her character too is unaware that a bra can be worn rather than used as a decorative household item. She gives it her all in her performance but it looks and feels as if Irving is speaking to his daughter rather than his wife and each conversation feels as if it will end in him grounding her. She too speaks in whines and complaints (for good reason, yes, but alas)
It’s due to these two wonderful yet eye candy utilised female characters, whom if it weren’t for their bodies would’ve been entirely sidelined, that I can’t deem American Hustle a masterpiece, even though at many times in the film (mostly the scenes involving men) I did want to. Mr. O’Russell, man, I love you but please flesh out those female characters better. No no, not in that way!!
By Chris Elena
Director: David O. Russell
Writer(s): David O. Russell, Eric Singer
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K.
Runtime: 138 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: December 12 2013; USA: December 20 2013