‘Tis the season for big American stories with flashy criminal leads, it seems. There’s Martin Scorcese’s Wolf of Wall Street; and then there’s this, American Hustle. David O. Russell’s tale of con artists, government corruption and romance has an exceptional cast, but is by no means an exceptional film.
American Hustle tells the story of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a New York-based con artist. He cons the most desperate of people, selling them the promise of a loan that he can never deliver. He is soon joined by Amy Adams’ Sydney, who masquerades as a British member of the Royal Family. Business is booming and romance is blossoming, much to the chagrin of Rosenfeld’s wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). Things soon get out of hand when FBI investigator Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) gets involved, leading to a story that tackles the corruption at the heart of Atlantic City.
The cast is phenomenal. Bale does a masterful job at oozing style and confidence, creating a totally believable con artist. Adams fluctuates between British elegance and American flirt beautifully, and although Bradley Cooper is a little stale, in certain scenes his emotions are extremely convincing. The standout, though, is Jennifer Lawrence, who manages to steal the show with her hilarious delivery and brilliant facial expressions, embodying the emotionally unstable Rosalyn perfectly.
This is aided by a wonderfully comedic script. Hustle is, unexpectedly, one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a while, with superb pacing and delivery all-round. The characters are often caricatures, which works surprisingly well (especially with Louis CK’s supporting role as an FBI boss). However, the hilarious moments are undercut by the otherwise weak plot.
American Hustle is all over the place. Sometimes it’s a crime caper, sometimes it’s a romcom and sometimes it’s somewhere in between. This wouldn’t be an issue if the plot was handled with more finesse, but instead it jumps between genres and tones at a very off-putting pace, leading to a great deal of awkward moments where you’re not entirely sure what’s supposed to be happening. With a running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes and not nearly enough story to sustain that, parts of the story are dragged out (to the extent that they’re boring), whilst the last act of the movie moves too quickly to properly enjoy. The big reveal at the end isn’t unexpected, and the manner in which it’s handled just falls a little flat.
That is reflective of the movie as a whole: it falls a little flat. American Hustle is undoubtedly a good film, but it is by no means a great one. An enjoyable and amusing take on American life, glamour and glitz, Hustle manages to tell a vaguely interesting story in a vaguely competent way, despite its star-studded cast.