The stratospheric success of David O’Russell’s latest film has made it a must review, if not necessarily a must see, movie. With a nomination haul outstripping Kim Kardashian’s nose job count, the notches on Charlie Sheen’s bedpost and my own gratuitous pop-culutre references combined, taking places in every conceivable category from best animated short to most hypnotic onscreen combover, the academy’s love for this convoluted rom-con truly knows no bounds. The story follows a con artist power couple busted by the police and forced into increasingly elaborate and dangerous deceptions by an overly ambitious, utterly clueless FBI agent for reasons that aren’t wholly explained. Throw in a mafia boss cameo by one of the greats and an incendiary nutcase of a wife and you’ve got yourself one incessant, highly entertaining but surprisingly forgettable cinematic experience.
American Hustle is great in a number of areas. The soundtrack is a combination of irony laced period funk reinforcing the genre and decade of the movie’s setting while enhancing the comedy in much of the narrative. The direction is stylish and assured as Russell, clearly relaxed working with a core cast of old faces, uses a point and shoot approach towards filming, adding an almost voyeuristic element to the character interaction making it all the more engrossing.
However, it is the dialogue and the actors delivering it that the films success is truly owed to. Christian Bale, sporting the world’s most intricate hair piece and the physique of a middle aged trucker, is a brilliant leading man giving a performance on par with his Oscar winning turn in The Fighter. Bradley Cooper is equally great as the springy haired, loose canon FBI agent with many of their scenes together making up the movies best moments. Amy Adams despite putting on an English accent that makes her sound like a drunken Nigella Lawson impersonator for much of the film, is sizzling as the object of both of their joint affections while Jennifer Lawrence as Bales ultra-manipulative adopted baby momma is hilarious in each and every one of her scenes, even if at times they feel slightly unnecessary. Jeremy Renner, with the hair of a young Elvis, the enthusiasm of a golden retriever and the social policies of Mahatma Ghandi, is hugely likable as the everyman mayor of New Jersey, who the rest of the cast are looking to con the shit out of. Although even his boy scout pure persona starts to show cracks as the movie goes on, reinforcing the central theme that appearance is everything but means nothing.
American Hustle’s story, however, is where Russell goes wrong. As confusing as a multi-story car park masterminded by M. Night Shyamalan the various narrative strands become more tangled than the tentacles of an Octopus in the midst of frantic Bop-it marathon. The movie and the actions of its characters become progressively more ridiculous and non-sensical to the point where you almost cease to care about the endless web of elaborate cons unfolding before your eyes as the film loses what little discernible direction it had at the start.
Like an out-house made of Picasso originals American Hustle, while fun and functional, is ultimately worth less than the sum of its parts, no matter how well written or beautifully purmed those parts may be. 6/10 stars