American Hustle tells the story of a con man, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), along with his partner, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), who are forced to work for an FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). Cue hilarity.
Director David O’Russell continuing his stellar streak, first with the brilliant The Fighter and the slightly less brilliant but still pretty good Silver Linings Playbook. Unfortunately it seems that “The Fighter” is his peak as a director as American Hustle compounds the problems of Silver Linings and simply doesn’t exude the charm that it’s predecessors have. The film’s influences are quite clear, namely Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. It has the crime of the former and sexual exuberance and aura of the latter.
With O’Russell’s last two films what you essentially had were very excellent character dramas sporting equally excellent lead and supporting performances. Stylistically, American Hustle is similar except that it needs to rely on plot a little more. So, while O’Russell’s character centric approach works in part (and we are treated to some terrific individual scenes) overall, the film falls a little flat.
Performance wise, it is undeniably great. Bale –as he always does- stealing the show, perhaps to the detriment of Adams and Cooper, who both do fine jobs. Adams particularly has to do this weird tightrope of a performance, constantly wavering between accents. With Bale, it like a Daniel Day Lewis like case in There Will Be Blood albeit a little less extreme. In that DDL is just mesmerizingly good, and while Paul Dano does an good job, he just seems worse than he is by comparison to DDL.
Although, the cynic in me would say that this is alarmingly close to Oscar-bait territory. Not taking anything away from the terrific performances, but the films seems very clearly written (it is the most “written” film I’ve seen in a while) to allow actors to give awards friendly performances.
Nonetheless, I see the main problems with the film as two fold. Firstly, and chiefly, is a problem of genre. The film is seemingly pulled in two directions, on one hand it wants to be a comedy (a very good one at that) and on the other it wants to be a bells and whistles crime drama (which is not its strong suit). If you deem it to be a comedy then it is surely one of the best of the year, but if you decide it to be a drama then it is a little lacking in terms of depth and thus, a little underwhelming. Secondly, and less importantly, the other problem is the ending. We got a perfectly tied up little conclusion that the film didn’t need. To me, it felt a little forced and a little too “movie like”. Much like Silver Linings.
Look, I’m not saying that it cannot be “dramedy” (oh no) but there is too little depth to be called a drama – even in passing. The film is also way too long. Clocking in at 138 mins it’s considerably shorter than both Goodfellas (146 mins) and Boogie Nights (155 mins) but it feels a lot longer due that lack of drama, but also due to it’s loud comedic style. It simply cannot keep that level going for over two hours.
In summary, it lacks depth when compared to the superior Goodfellas and Boogie Nights, as well the comedic touch of Boogie Nights, but if you are looking at surface, what surface!