Movie Review: American Hustle
I saw American Hustle on day 1 of a 2-day detox cleanse, so many of my thoughts while watching revolved around what Christian Bale ate in order to gain 40 pounds for this movie, and how I would like it if someone paid me millions of dollars to eat French fries and gain 40 pounds.
In addition to Christian Bale’s impressive transformation, American Hustle also showcases Jennifer Lawrence’s true breadth of talent; unique cinematography; and Amy Adams’ ability to switch accents in a snap. It seems odd that the actors flip-flopped around with their roles before filming this movie (Bale, Renner, and Bradley Cooper swapped around a bit), especially since they all seem perfectly fitted for their respective roles. I thought I was predisposed to like this movie because, 1) Jeremy Renner is in it, and he is great, 2) the ads make it look exciting and the music was intriguing, and 3) everyone else did. But I guess I am less of a follower than I thought. While I did appreciate the elements I mentioned, I found the movie disappointing. It’s hard to pinpoint why, exactly, but I think it is the plot itself; I feel like the gangster/con-man plot has been done before, and American Hustle didn’t deliver anything I hadn’t already seen. Characters are the strongest part of this movie by far, but for me, that wasn’t quite enough to keep me from losing interest half an hour into the film. While Ocean’s Eleven brought us a fresh take on con men, Catch Me If You Can kept me entertained, and even Matchstick Men held my attention, American Hustle repeats the same tricks other movies have seen. For a movie as elaborate and verbose as this one, I expected more.
Stars: 2 out of 5
Why to see this movie: If you want to know what’s going on during the Oscars
Why not to see this movie: It will make you crave French fries
Percentage Jeremy Renner’s character in The Town is better than his character in American Hustle: 70%
Tiny insignificant spoiler: There's a scene midway through American Hustle in which Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), the sassy 70's housewife of Christian Bale's Irving, is told not to put metal in a microwave, but she's a saucy lass, so these instructions anger her and she puts metal in the microwave anyway. It causes a big fire. But she doesn't care because she's just so darn sassy. Also, everyone calls it a "science oven" because it's the seventies. This is the level of humor American Hustle operates on: character driven gags that are mildly amusing because they're incredibly well acted. I bring this up because the Rotten Tomatoes summary of the critical consensus calls it "riotously funny." First off, this a phrase that no one actually uses in real life, and you'd sound like an enormous tool if you did. Anyone who calls anything riotously funny is immediately suspect and probably uses it liberally because they're too lazy to describe how something actually made them feel. I was entertained enough by American Hustle but I never once laughed out loud, and I always knew where the plot and jokes were heading.
And comedy (along with some strong performances) is all the film has going for it. American Hustle isn't a particularly intelligent, important or inventive movie. It doesn’t have anything particularly insightful to say about any of the subjects it is superficially about— con artists, politics, crime, relationships— and it’s pretty conventional in its plot and structure. It’ll probably get credit for some of that stuff, because David O. Russell directed it, and smart directors with a good pedigree tend to get some credit even when they don’t deserve it, but it’s a pretty weightless movie. And that’s fine, it just means that the sum total of the movie’s worth is how fun it is to watch. The answer is kinda fun. It never gets truly insane (like The Wolf on Wall Street) so the movie ends up feeling safe and pleasant. How much you’ll enjoy American Hustle depends on how much you want to see some of today’s finest actors play dress up and exchange (semi) witty repartee. It's a pretty forgettable film, and I would love to see how much the critics who are raving about it remember about it by this time next year.
How does it compare to other David O. Russell films?
Worse than: Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees
Better than: Silver Linings Playbook (Yes, I didn't like SLP at all, but before you completely disregard my review, know that I've loved other David O. Russell films, namely the two listed above.)