Saturday, December 21, 2013
Russell Continues His Hustle
In American Hustle, everybody hustles: the con-men, the congressmen, the police and FBI--everyone does what they need to get by and provide for their families. These are complicated characters, and they're the film's best strength: they have many different motives for every action they perform. We first meet Irving (Christian Bale), a chubby schlub with a nasty comb-over and an ability to scam people into giving him money. He quickly falls for a much more attractive Sydney (Amy Adams) at a party and the two bond and instantly make a connection. Irving's never had a solid partner in crime, and Sydney is game right from the start, turning on a British accent and becoming a key factor in upping Irving's game to a bigger league.
Now they're taking even more money from unsuspecting people in a scamming loan business. So that draws the attention of Richie (Bradley Cooper), an FBI agent whose main goal in life is being the "Quarterback" of a major bust involving powerful people, so he can make a name for himself and stop being a doormat to his family and superiors. He comes up with a seemingly great idea: instead of busting these small-timers, he enlists their cooperation in a major sting involving the New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner, surprising in a different role than his norm), Irving's wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), a fake Arab Sheik, mobsters, and congressmen who are willing to take bribes to perform illegal actions.
Alas, not everything in American Hustle is perfect. With a cast performing so admirably, as I just mentioned, this statement is tough, but: occasionally the proceedings were a little monotonous. Stories like these have been before, and that's okay, but Hustle never surprised me and too rarely made me think I was witnessing something great (a problem I didn't have watching Silver Linings). Take Argo for example, a story with comparably-similar subject matter. I was excited the whole time when I saw Argo, and I even knew how the story was going to end--with Hustle I didn't know how it was going to end and it still didn't have my butt planted on the edge of the seat.
American Hustle has echos of an early Scorcese film: the use of the time period's clothing, style and music to bring you into the setting (it's often focused on too much in Hustle), a messy (in a good way) plot that jumps around and never lets you feel comfortable, voice over narration that ebbs and flows with each character's motivation. But it never comes close to reaching those highs that a film like Goodfellas brought to audiences. There's never a feeling of true danger. It's almost as if David O. Russell, as incredibly skilled as he is, was focused too much on the glam of the 1970's story and each actor's performance instead of a cohesive narration with true tension. Before the first scene of the American Hustle, some words flash onto the screen: "Some of this really happened." I have no doubt that it did--I just wish it had been more exciting. (B)