“Some of this actually happened.” That’s the title card preceding this tale of the ABSCAM operation of the the late 70’s – early 80’s. Combining the casts of director David O. Russel‘s recent award winners – The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook – American Hustle stars Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence with the addition of Jeremy Renner. Louis C.K. also appears, along with a perfect cameo, the identity of whom I will not spoil here.
Two successful con artists and lovers, Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Adams) are caught red handed by an eager FBI agent, Richard DiMaso (Cooper). Instead of going to prison, they cut a deal to help DiMaso take down a few higher profile crooks, starting with the mayor of New Jersey (Renner) and leading to members of the US government in an ever more complicated scam involving a supposed Arab Sheikh (Michael Pena) offering to rebuild Atlantic City.
American Hustle is chock full of high octane performances. Bale fills out his role wonderfully, in more ways than one. Amy Adams shows off her figure like never before while spitting out fiery dialogue that smoulders across the screen. Bradley Cooper looks ridiculous in curls, but it doesn’t matter, and Jennifer Lawrence steals every one of the few scenes she’s in.
The setup is intriguing, the cast dynamite, the costumes shocking, and the music captivating. Why then does it feel like something is missing? Oh, that would be the plot.
American Hustle can’t ever seem to quite decide what it wants to be. Is it a character driven drama? A con movie? Historical fiction? A cautionary tale? A contest to see how revealing Amy Adams costumes can be? It has all these elements tumbling around, but none of them really finds their footing. The running time is definitely on the long side of things and it takes an enormous amount of time setting up these characters, but doesn’t think too much about the payoff at the end, leaving things a bit empty feeling. One could argue that this is intentional, but there are other “morals of the story” tossed out there as well, like “people believe what they want to believe” and “the end justifies the means, except when people don’t like the end,” or “don’t do things for selfish reasons.”
Even though Rosenfeld and Prosser are more or less presented as the protagonists in this story, there’s not much redeeming about them other than that ultimately they care about each other and maybe a couple of their friends. Really just about everyone in this film is a pretty terrible person, but nothing really comes of it in any meaningful way. There’s really no point.
In the end, American Hustle is mostly flash and very little substance, though taken on a case by case basis, the performances are top notch, some of the best work for all involved. It’s too bad it doesn’t come together in a better final result.
Mrs. Hamster says:
“It needed to be 45 minutes shorter and to have a plot.”
My Rating: Three out of five hats
American Hustle cons its way into 2,507 theaters, December 20