American Hustle is a film set in the 1970s and one look at the characters in the film will really make that clear. They are very over the top in the way they look, from their clothes to their hair. There is also music from the '70s throughout the film. One awesome musical moment involves Jennifer Lawrence and the song "Live and Let Die" by Paul McCartney, the theme song to the '70s James Bond film of the same name. It is a moment in which Jennifer Lawrence just gets to act and really express her character's emotions. This brings us to the most '70s aspect of the film: the space that the editing and directing leaves for the actors to really just act.
So many films today are cut so quickly that there isn't much room for the characters to really live and breathe on the screen. Films are often left with no little moments to focus on a character's face, for example, as they survey their surroundings or react to someone's dialogue. In American Hustle, we really get to see what characters are thinking through their expressions and little quiet moments. Though, to be honest, a lot of this film is loud. There are some powerful moments of actors, Bradley Cooper in particular, just going full blown with their character. The performances in American Hustle are of the caliber you would see in a classic '70s film.
So, the acting in American Hustle is wonderful all around. Everyone in this film gives a great performance from Christian Bale and Amy Adams to Louis C.K.. It is clear that at least someone in this cast is going to get an Academy Award nomination and probably someone will win the award too. The only problem I see there is that everyone is so good that it will be hard for the Academy to choose which ones to nominate. For sure, though, someone should get acknowledged for their role in this film. So, again, the acting is phenomenal, but what about the story?
Well, the story is kind of all over the place. For me, it was a hard one to follow. The story involves Irving Rosenfeld, played by Christian Bale, and Sydney Prosser, played by Amy Adams, two con artists who end up working with FBI agent Richie DiMaso to trick, expose, and catch criminals that the FBI have been unable to catch on their own. The fact of the matter is that sometimes I wasn't sure who was conning who. Sometimes, I felt as if I was the one who was getting conned. I think some of this is intentional, but sometimes I felt like I should know what is going on or what a particular character is trying to do when I didn't have a clue. This made it hard to really connect with the characters and understand their emotions as I wasn't able to really decipher if the things they were saying and doing were legitimate or part of some master plan to trick everyone. By the end of the movie, most characters' intentions become clear, but in some cases I was still confused. I left the theater still thinking back on certain scenes in the movie and wondering if the characters' emotions were real or part of some game.
Then there is the narration. The narration in the movie comes and goes as it pleases. It just seems to come in at any random moment it feels like. There are long stretches with no narration and then suddenly it comes back for a brief moment to tell us something else. Equally random is who is the one narrating. The narrator changes from character to character throughout the movie, leaving no one clear cut narrator for the film. Really, the narration didn't do much for me other than bring back memories of Goodfellas, whose narration had a similar feel to it except in that movie it felt much more necessary and really complimented the images on the screen.
So let's recap: the acting is great, the story is a little hard to follow, and the narration never really finds its place in the film. What about the characters? Well, the characters are all really interesting and because the characters are played so well by the actors it makes for some really interesting moments in the film. However, because the story makes it hard to understand towards the middle of the movie just what the characters are all striving to do, it is hard to sometimes to really connect with the emotions of the characters in the film. The ending of the movie doesn't totally help either because it left me with a question about the relationship between Richie DiMaso, Irving Rosenfeld, and Sydney Prosser. It also implied things about the relationship between Richie DiMaso and Jeremy Renner's character of Carmine Polito that I never felt the movie ever successfully showcased.
I can clearly remember watching the first trailer for American Hustle and being blown away by the style of it all. The actual movie doesn't really have the same style that the first trailer had, however. The movie is not as flashy as that trailer would leave one to believe. The film is edited in a very non-showy way unlike the first trailer. Also, aside from that one scene with "Live and Let Die", the music never really syncs with the images on screen the way Led Zeppelin's "Good Times Bad Times" does in the trailer. In fact, sometimes I found the musical choices odd and disappointing. For example, the film uses the song "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?" by The Bee Gees in one sequence that left a lot to be desired. "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart" is an extremely powerful song sung to perfection by The Bee Gees and I could see it being used for powerful, emotional, effect in a movie, but it didn't really seem to fit in the sequence it was used for in this movie. I felt myself focusing on the song too much and struggling to focus on the images on screen that to me didn't really have much connection to the song.
American Hustle, overall, is a difficult movie to rate. I love the acting so much in this movie and the characters in the story are very interesting, but the story itself never really compelled me and often left me with questions that were never answered. So, while I do think this movie deserves recognition for what it gets right, I did not ultimately like the movie as much as I wanted to. American Hustle is certainly a worthwhile experience, but it is too rough in some areas for me to fully go crazy for.