American Hustle: Oscar-worthy performances, disappointing film

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I am wretchedly behind on getting a review out for this film. It’s been a little more than a week since I saw it, and I hate reviewing things after that long because I have the memory of a goldfish. So I’m going to try my best to remember things, but if I draw a blank and/or leave out something important, please forgive me. I tried. Haha.

This is one I was very eager to see. Not only does it have an absolutely stellar cast (including Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence), an interesting premise (that is partially based on true events), and an awesome ‘70s backdrop, but it’s directed by David O. Russell, who really impressed me with Silver Linings Playbook. So I was expecting to be blown away. Unfortunately, I was not. As a whole, the film didn’t quite do it for me. That said, the performances are so great that I don’t at all regret seeing it.

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Synopsis: “A con man, Irving Rosenfeld, along with his seductive British partner, Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso. DiMaso pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.” Borrowed from my favorite movie site, IMDb.

The Good: Truly, the extraordinary actors carry this film. Bale completely transforms himself into smooth, clever con man Irving Rosenfeld (even putting on some serious weight and shaving his head), and I will be shocked if he doesn’t receive an Oscar nomination. Lawrence plays her craziest, sassiest character to date, Irving’s mouthy wife, Rosalyn, and she sparkles every time she’s onscreen (again, I think an Oscar nom is inevitable). Cooper impresses as wild, overly ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso, who, though sometimes intense, also brings a great deal of humor to the film (seeing his hair in curlers is priceless). And then there’s Adams, who may not play a character with quite so much personality, but as Irving’s smart, sexy girlfriend/partner, Sydney Prosser, she gives a very solid performance (plus, she manages to look amazing in some pretty outrageous getups). All of these performances have received Golden Globe nominations for good reason—they are incredible. I also appreciate the balance of humor and drama in this film. I first noticed this with Silver Linings Playbook, but Russell knows how to counteract the heavy plot points with more lighthearted moments and vice versa. It’s quite a ride and fun a way to tell a story. It’s interesting, though, because the many ups and downs make the film difficult to classify as a specific genre (IMDB calls it a “crime” and “drama” film while Rotten Tomatoes simply refers to it as a “comedy”). Additionally, I would like to point out that the soundtrack is awesome. The music comes straight from the ‘70s, and it sets the tone for each scene perfectly. Favorite scene: Rosalyn sings and dances to “Live and Let Die.” Hilarious and awesome. For a minute, you’ll want to get up and dance, too.

The Bad: I’m not a fan of how this film wraps up. Since we’re dealing with a messy, risky con that rattles a lot of cages, the ending feels too perfect—almost wrapped up in a neat little bow. But I feel the same about Silver Linings Playbook. Russell must have a thing about perfect endings. However, in Silver Linings Playbook I’m more okay with the ending because the characters are more likeable. With American Hustle, I found the characters interesting and the performances award-worthy, but I didn’t think these people necessarily deserved perfect endings. I see what the film is trying to do—portray a twisted, very ‘70s path to a sort of “American Dream.” Russell tries to make Irving and Sydney sympathetic by showing us their rough pasts and their struggles, but for me, that’s not enough to take away from the fact that they’re sleazy con artists. Plus, Irving is cheating on his wife…okay, his very crazy wife, but it bothers me nonetheless. These are not necessarily relatable people. Overall, I guess my biggest qualm would be that this film seems to lack direction. It’s trying to be so many things at once that in the end, it doesn’t appear to know quite what it wants to be. Maybe that’s why I walked away not knowing how to feel about it. Least favorite scene: Not a scene as much as a regret, but Robert De Niro is completely wasted in this film. All that talent, all that awesome and how much screen time does he get? Less than ten minutes. Why cast De Niro and then use him so little? Especially when his character is a mob boss!

To Sum It Up: As I said, I do not regret seeing this film—it’s just one of those that I don’t really care to see again anytime soon. The performances are enough to make it worth seeing at least once, but the film as a whole feels misguided and a little forced sometimes. Personally, I didn’t love it. But hey, I am merely one little voice in a sea of very positive reviews. Do with my silly ol’ opinion what you will.

My Grade: B

P.S. Just a quick note about the Resolutions series, which has been great fun so far: if you want to submit something to me, you may use any kind of format you want—a format you’ve used before, the format I used for my Die Hard review, or something completely new. And you’re welcome to send pictures with your review, though I can always dig up something myself if you don’t care to. There have been questions, so I thought I’d clarify. 🙂

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34 thoughts on “American Hustle: Oscar-worthy performances, disappointing film

  1. Good review. I’ll admit it, the movie isn’t perfect, but the performances are so exciting and fun to watch that I couldn’t help but get past the messiness.

  2. The story definitely falters, but as you said, the performances took hold of the chaos and embraced it. No love for Renner? I thought he was bloody brilliant and definitely deserves a nomination somewhere along the line…

    • I do think Renner did a good job–just didn’t impress me as much as the others. It’s nice to be reminded that he’s a solid actor though. I felt like I hadn’t seen him in anything remotely award-worthy since The Hurt Locker…

      • They were all great, but the only one I think deserves to win in Lawrence. I wouldn’t be upset if all of the take the Oscar, but there have just been so many great performances this year that I don’t think. Hustle can run away with victories.

  3. I’ll give this a watch when it comes around on VOD.

    How’s it going up there?? It’s been in the low twenties ALL DAY!!! Miserable!!

  4. Nice review. This is the first review I’ve read that mentions Robert DeNiro, I didn’t know he’s in the movie until now. Too bad he has a bit part, he was so good in Silver Linings Playbook. I still might watch it out of curiosity but at least my expectations won’t be overly high.

    • Thanks! Unfortunately, De Niro is very easy to forget in this film, which is a shame. I agree–he was great in SLP. I would say if you’re curious, definitely check it out. As I said, I don’t at all regret seeing it. It just, sadly, could’ve been better.

  5. I’m not surprised O’Russell got the most out of his actors but I am surprised he hasn’t reached the heights – quality wise – that some of his recent efforts achieved. I’m looking forward to seeing this though.

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