Directed by David O. Russell, the man behind the acclaimed films Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, American Hustle is set in the 1970s, and the story of how a con artist (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight, American Psycho) and his partner (Amy Adams, Man of Steel, The Muppets) are dragged into an FBI sting operation against corrupt officials by Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper, The Hangover, The Place Beyond The Pines).
One of the things that attracted me most about the film was the stunning ensemble cast. Each and every member delivers a powerful performance, and it’s their interactions that truly drive the film. Bale maintains his famous reputation of becoming his characters, and the opening shot of him as the fat, balding, middle-aged Irving Rosenfeld was incredibly jarring, yet his role adds momentum to the film. Cooper brings his own unique sense of style and charm, which is complimented by Adams’ captivating layered performance as Sydney Prosser, both Rosenfeld’s and DiMaso’s love interest, despite her questionable English accent that comes and goes throughout the film. The reason for this is that her character uses it as a ruse for her marks, but I thought the need for her to maintain it on and off throughout the film was distracting and irritating, although necessary for the plot.
Jeremy Renner (Avengers Assemble, The Hurt Locker) is Carmine Polito, Mayor of Camden, New Jersey, a family man who deals in corruption to try and redevelop Atlantic City. He’s portrayed as an honest man who does what he has to for his constituents, yet at the same time styled as the movie’s central antagonist. This gives quite a contradictory message towards the character, which I think would have been eliminated if Renner had been allowed to explore Polito’s dark side more often. And of course, Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone, The Hunger Games) gives another scene-stealing performance as Rosalyn, Rosenfeld’s volatile and mentally unstable wife. Lawrence revels in her damaged character’s flaws and idiosyncrasies, making her a pleasure to watch. Easily one of the highlights to her role, and the film itself, was watching her dance/clean to Live and Let Die. Yet I feel that Lawrence should have got much more screen-time, especially since she is seen as one of the big names attached to it.
Sadly, the American Hustle’s plot isn’t to the same calibre as the acting. It had so much potential to create a rich story filled with twists and turns, yet gives us an unoriginal and uninspired crime plot that dragged on just a little too long, and would have been dull without such a strong cast. This is because David O. Russell decided to concentrate on improvised character development, instead of an engaging storyline. However, praise must be given to the stylish tone of the film, in particular the costume department. Coupled with Danny Elfman’s fantastic soundtrack, it really brings the 70s to life in all its vibrant glamour.
American Hustle is a stylish, character focus crime movie with darkly comedic undertones, which concentrates on the strong central performances of its principal cast. But this is tragically let down by the mismanagement of Jeremy Renner’s character, a disappointing lack of screen time for Jennifer Lawrence, and an unexceptional concept. It was an enjoyable watch, it just could have been so much better.