American Hustle (2013) (R)

In her recent review of "American Hustle", film critic Christy Lemire said this: "David O. Russell out-Scorseses Martin Scorsese with "American Hustle," a '70s crime romp that's ridiculously entertaining in all the best ways."
Sure, the references to Martin Scorsese will come as a barrage to anyone who reads anything about this movie. That's because David O. Russell really tries to recreate Scorsese's effortless cool and composure while handling source material that becomes explosive.
Scorsese loves a good meltdown and in "American Hustle" we have several meltdowns...but none of them were good.
The movie drops us in while something important is happening. Naturally, we can't tell what that something is since we've only just met all the characters. So, after the scene is done, we go back and trace the steps that led to that moment.
We have a man named Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bales), a con man. He's not exclusively a con man, he owns a few dry cleaning businesses and a glass shop (that is, a place that sells glass and not a shop made from glass...just clarifying). But his side business that's slowly becoming a full-time occupation is conning people out of money.
At a party he meets a girl named Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) and he immediately falls for her. It could be her charm, her good looks, or her ever lacking of a bra; but the two make a connection.
So they flirt and spend and drink and sleep...all the time knowing that they can't be together.
Irving has a wife, a woman described as a passive-agressive warrior, Rosalyn, who is played by Jennifer Lawrence. Irving adopted Rosalyn's son as his own...he loves the boy and that's the only reason that the two still are together.
Sydney adopts an alter-ego that she names Lady Edith, a high class British snob with plenty of banking connections and with this character, she and Irving begin a conning marathon.
Then comes Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), the cute, naive FBI agent who dreams of making it big. Busting the two in action, DiMaso convinces them to help him nab four big names and then he'll let them go. So what can they do but agree?
As far as con movies go, "American Hustle" is neither surprising nor exciting. Any plot twist is foreseeable and any real drama is wasted underneath heavy layers of make-up and Jennifer Lawrence herself.
David O. Russell has proven himself a good director and has already made his pick in actors. The four big names (excluding Jeremy Renner as an idealistic mayor) he has worked with before in his movies "The Fighter" and last year's "Silver Linings Playbook". Both of these movies won acting Oscars: Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence (though I was, and still am, the only one who was puzzled by her win).
Yet with "American Hustle", the two actors that stand out are Louis C. K. as DiMaso's supervisor and Christian Bale.
Bale has been known to drop and gain a lot of weight for his roles and here he bloats out again as the suave con man with a terrible combover.
The first big problem with the movie that we notice is the script. To prove that it was set in the 70s, we get a constant bombardment of references to Nixon, Carter, the Watergate Affair, etc. etc. It feels like Russell's 2013 version of the 70s. It's not convincing in the least.
He does take cues from Scorsese, most notably the way he uses music to constantly add a backing to the scenes.
As much as "American Hustle" is paying homage to the con man movie, it is also stealing from many other directors whose movies were all better than this. Russell takes from a number of directors, including, but not limited to Danny Boyle, Quentin Tarantino, and  (obviously) Scorsese himself.
Apparently, I'm the only one who doesn't like "American Hustle"...but I'm fine with that.
There is no real peril to the film, the ending can be spotted an hour before it occurs, and the performances that many have raved as the best of the year are just...plain...stagey.
Jennifer Lawrence is the most obvious mess-pian. She is whiny and screamy and slutty...but, like Jessica Rabbit, she could just be drawn that way.
It's a very immature movie, one that takes its viewer by the hand and makes sure that they understand everything that's going on.
Everyone is shot in extreme close-up, yet the people who criticized Tom Hooper last year are singing David O. Russell's praises...I don't get it.
Amy Adams does a fine job, considering the lines she's given. In no "American Hustle" a movie that recreates a time period, tells a compelling story, or even comes close to the grandeur of Scorsese. So on that, I disagree with Ms. Lemire.
Still the movie is well-made; but that's the same as saying: "they poured a lot of money down the garbage disposal". Sure, the movie looks great and sure some of the techniques used are fine; but when something about the story itself is faulty...the rest of the picture will follow suit.
"American Hustle" is bound for Oscar gold, probably getting loads of nominations and maybe even some statues. But I think of how I saw it in the theater, when the person next to me just stood up and left, huffing. Whatever their reason for leaving was, part of me wishes that I'd gone with them.

Score: 2 out of 4 stars

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