A con man helping a cop catch corrupt politicians. That in a nutshell is the premise behind David O. Russell’s new movie, American Hustle. Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner and Louis C.K., the movie follows Irving Rosenfield as he juggles avoiding arrest and relationships, while still pulling off cons. Watch the trailer after the jump and then read the review.
When a movie opens with the line “some of this actually happened” it probably should be good. Sadly, American Hustle, is a big disappointment. With an all-star cast, an award winning director and a ton of hype from pre-screenings, I went in with high expectations. But the reality is nothing happens in the story and despite the casts best efforts, this is a bad movie.
There are a lot of problem with this movie but the biggest one is the script. Simply put, some colourful characters yell and backstab each other for reasons that remain a mystery. Bale’s Irving is introduced as a board con man who has his career given a boost when Amy Adams’s Sydney joins him. But when Bradley Cooper’s Richie DiMaso from the FBI tries enlists their help to con corrupt politicians, Irving sees a chance to end his career of crime. However, it plays out so slowly that I was bored before Cooper even showed up.
On the side of this is a love-triangle between Irving, Sydney and Irving’s wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). Lawrence’s performance as Rosalyn is the best part of the movie, but her character does basically nothing and it’s very frustrating. The rift in her marriage with Irving is established right from the beginning and so her further decisions are entirely predictable. She is selfish, careless and heartless which could have been interesting if she was on screen more. She does get one important scene near the end, but by then I was bored and didn’t care about the repercussions.
The rest of the cast does their best to save the movie but it doesn’t matter. Bale as Irving sees him transform with a big belly and a strange wig. Plus, for a British actor, he has a convincing New York accent. His character is a con man, but a boring one. He isn’t charming like Danny Ocean or interesting like Roger Kint in the Usual Suspects. It’s actually amazing people fall for his cons, which include fake art and loans that don’t pay out. But a lot of people do and he is trusted by the government to take down corrupt politicians. So even though Bale gave it his all, for the main protagonist, I really couldn’t have cared less what happened to him. While it was kind of interesting to him switching sides of the law, it changed him in such a small way, he remained as boring as when he is introduced.
Adams’s Sydney does some interesting things in that her way of conning could work. She pretends to be a rich British heir and gives out fake loans to people. It’s actually funny to see her in that character. Adams gives a good performance overall. But as the movie went on and she stopped tricking people I again grew board. Her normal life just wasn’t that interesting and isn’t touched on much. This game is a criticism of the writing. While Adams certainly tries, her character quickly becomes a background character to Bale’s Irving when I would rather see her more involved in the main con.
Finally, Bradley Cooper plays FBI Agent Richie. This is the most confusing character of the bunch. He is a cop but also becomes addicted to the art of the con. He is introduced as a smart guy who can take down anyone but by the end is lost and confused. His motives are never clear. Does he want to take down politicians? Or cons like Irving and Sydney? He lives with his mom, but has a fiancé and works a good job at the FBI. He is shown to be good agent at the beginning but goes against everything his boss tells him, which gets him in trouble. Again, the actor does his best. Cooper goes all out with some ridiculous curls and matches the wide range of personalities and emotions written for his character. And while that may have been the intention of the writing, I didn’t like the direction or the conclusion of this character’s arc. He is too all over the place for a cop, especially one who proves himself capable when he is introduced.
This film is completely Oscar bait. And it is succeeding. With an A-list cast, an A-list director coming off his best film of his career with Silver Linings Playbook and a story that sort of actually happened (the politicians they trick with fake investments were all real), this movie is textbook awards contender. And while it had some strong performances, impressive actor transformations and Jennifer Lawrence giving her all, the story was so poorly written it took away from everything. I really wanted to like this movie, but it’s been a long time since I left the theater more confused than when I walked in.