If there is one thing that David O. Russell’s latest crop of films have taught us about the filmmaker is that his stories are anything but neat and tidy. That philosophy is definitely on display in “American Hustle” as the story is full of twists and turns about who is conning who. Great performances and crackling dialogue continue to be trademarks for the director, but this time the messiness created some problems. A disjointed feeling is created that holds back this truly entertaining film from achieving its full potential.
Christian Bale and Amy Adams star as a pair of con artists who are forced to work for an FBI agent played by Bradley Cooper who wants to take down corrupt politicians and gangsters in the late ‘70s. They con their marks; they con each other, all in order to do whatever they have to do to survive.
It’s been one hell of a run over the last few years for David O. Russell with “The Fighter” in 2010 and “Silver Linings Playbook” just last year. Perhaps it was that quick turnaround between “Playbook” and “Hustle” that led to some of the issues with the narrative that at times, most prominently in the beginning, felt awkwardly sewn together. A little more time might have allowed Russell to sort out some of it and have a more natural flow between scenes.
Another issue just may have been that there are so many different cons in play at any particular time that its not always easy to catch how one scene can affect the other. In the end they bring it all together in a satisfying enough way, if a little tame for all that led up to it. Even with the small mess Russell continues to show that he is at his best when life is at its craziest, and the film is entertaining.
Now on to what has become the director’s signature for all of his films, the performances. Once again the ensemble is brilliant, led by Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams. Before we get to the ladies however, a quick shout out to the men. Bale is terrific and practically unrecognizable thanks to the gut and comb-over he dons for the role (all real by the way); his sly nature is fun and he does a terrific job conning everyone, including the audience, as you never know if you have gotten the real Irving Rosenfeld. Cooper is also fantastic; a live wire, in over his head and too much into his own ego to realize it. He creates a dastardly character.
Amy Adams really shines. While we never can tell whether Bale is playing some sort of con or not, through Adams we really get to see the kind of toll all the lies and manipulations can have on a person. Her character is the focal center of the film, and she bares it all so well.
Then there is Jennifer Lawrence, who is so incredibly bonkers in this film. She’s a live wire and you never know what’s coming next from her. It’s big, it’s excessive, but so is the character and she provides endless entertainment whenever she is on screen. Here’s to Lawrence and Russell continuing a long and prosperous collaboration together because the two of them have found a groove with each other that you could potentially rival that of De Niro and Scorsese (by the way, De Niro has a quick cameo which he handles quite well).
It’s probably safe to say that we will never get a modest, contemplative film from Russell. He will always swing for the fences and use the most chaotic scenarios to bring his messages to the screen, but with that he is bound to miss from time to time. “Hustle” doesn’t quite get there, feeling a little glazed over for it to really click, but it’s a valiant effort from a filmmaker that has found a niche and continues to explore it in interesting ways.