American Hustle Review

Posted: December 13, 2013 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

Not many directors can maintain a streak of good luck with their films for that long, but let me tell ya, after the one-two-three punch of The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and now American Hustle, director David O. Russell’s impressive hot streak has proven to be one of those rare exceptions, and I certainly don’t want to see it end by this point.  Now, normally when I write film reviews, I do my best to avoid others, so as to not “steal” from anybody else.  But since I got to see this film a whole ten days before its nationwide release, I was really curious at what other critics were saying, and while trying to come up with a way to best summarize what this movie is about, I came across a blurb from Filmspotting critic Josh Larsen that I felt was perfect, and it really stuck with me.  So, Josh and all you other readers out there, allow me a moment of brief, self-professed plagiarism while I quote: “American Hustle is a slick con-mentary on deception as the underbelly of the American dream.”  It’s not so much that Mr. Larsen said it any better than I could, but I just wanted to work in a way to use the term ‘con-mentary’ in this review.  So sue me.

American Hustle chronicles the real-life Abscam operation by the FBI in the late 1970’s.  “Some of this is based on a true story,” the film’s opening title card admits.  The central characters are Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), two professional con artists/ frequent lovers who, early on, are caught by ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper).  DiMaso isn’t so much interested in putting Irving and Sydney away for life as he is using them to nab various Jersey powerbrokers and Mafiosi.  DiMaso plans to do that by going through corrupt politicians.  Their first target: Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), the well-to-do Mayor of Camden, New Jersey whom Irving befriends as part of the con with the intention of twisting Carmine’s aspirations for his district to suit the sting operation.  Everything seems to go smooth as silk – or, since this is the late ’70’s, polyester – until Irving’s young loose cannon of a wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) becomes involved in the scheme.  Her presence not only inflames already-existing tensions between Irving, Sydney and DiMaso, but also threatens to bring the whole case crumbling down due to her wildly unpredictable nature.

American Hustle is one of the best movies of the year, bolstered by an engaging script, expert direction and a stellar cast, all of whom bring their A-game.  The combination of all these elements is so strong throughout, that the film was able to fix an almost permanent grin on my face as I was watching it, which is similar to the first time I saw Silver Linings Playbook last year.  And in terms of watching great movies, I believe there’s no better feeling than that.

This movie has already garnered much recognition for its acting, and it’s all completely deserved.  I can’t recall a bad or average performance from the entire bunch.  Christian Bale in particular is really great.  Due to his physical appearance and the way he just melts into the role of Irving, I forgot it was Christian Bale I was watching not five minutes in.  He locates all of the aspects of this guy which make him a real human being and dives face-first into them.  Seeing Bale in this movie, it’s stunning to think that this is the same guy who just last year was playing the bulked-up and world-weary Batman.  The way Irving’s relationship develops with Carmine throughout the film is particularly interesting, and it’s not just the script, but also Bale’s and Renner’s acting that really gives that element weight.  Amy Adams is most likely giving a career-best performance as Sydney, showing she’s more than capable of going toe-to-toe with Bale in a few instances and not emerging as just an afterthought.  Just like Bale, Adams is able to tap into Sydney’s sympathetic qualities and turn out a commanding performance.  Bradley Cooper revisits that manic energy he showed in Silver Linings, but still differentiates Richie enough from Patrick that any similarity is a non-issue.  He’s come a long way from The Hangover.  This brings me to Jennifer Lawrence, who probably has the least amount of screentime out of all the top-billed stars, but still proves to be a force to be reckoned with.  Even Louis C.K. is strong in this movie.  And be on the lookout for a fun surprise cameo from a certain actor.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Oscar nominations across the board for this cast.

David O. Russell has clearly been influenced by similar films in similar genres in the way he crafts the film, especially in how it sort of simulates GoodFellas at the start, but he fortunately doesn’t let himself be controlled by those influences.  This signature style of his which began to develop in The Fighter is back in full-force here, from his visual choices and right on down to the mesmerizingly naturalistic way he has the actors deliver their lines.  Nobody in today’s movies argues as entertainingly as the characters in a David O. Russell film do.  The visual aesthetic of American Hustle effectively puts us right in the middle of the 1970’s, as does the soundtrack.  On that note, I defy anyone not to leave the theatre with “10538 Overture” by Electric Light Orchestra in their heads.  But getting back to Russell’s style from an acting/storytelling standpoint, I have to say he has one of the firmest grasps on humor that I’ve ever seen from a film director.  Trust me, this picture can get REALLY funny.  This film sports a very well-balanced blend of comedy and drama, to the point where one never detracts from the other; both the comedic and dramatic beats in American Hustle work equally well.  This is also a mark of Russell’s ability as a screenwriter, and that fine-tuned balance ends up being one of the film’s biggest strengths.

So, is there anything about American Hustle that I DON’T like?  Well, my only real complaint is that at 138 minutes, there are moments in the Second Act where you can feel the length a little bit, but the film never bored me, so I won’t be too harsh about that.  Otherwise, American Hustle is a great film worthy of David O. Russell’s now high standards, as well as all the praise it’s been getting.  David O. Russell, for my money, has become one of the best directors working today and I can’t wait to see what he does next.


  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Michael. It may be messy in certain bits and pieces, but overall, this movie was a freakin’ blast!

  2. moviebuff801 says:

    Thanks! Yeah, the Second Act may get “messy” a few times, but the overall film is too strong to begrudge it that much.

  3. reel411 says:

    it is longer than it needs to be, but it’s fun throughout. i thought it severely lacked substance and weight to convey the themes it was trying to convey tough.

    • moviebuff801 says:

      Agreed on it being too long, but disagree on it lacking weight. I thought the script did a great job of creating sympathy for each character — even Rosalyn — and its weight uniquely came mostly through the comedy.

  4. vinnieh says:

    Great post, this looks like a great movie with a very good cast.

  5. moviebuff801 says:

    Thanks. Indeed it is.

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