I always find the lead-up to awards season to be the time when big movies make that one last push towards Oscar glory, knowing full well that critics and cinema-goers alike share a collective short memory when it comes to selecting the best movies of the year. Martin Scorcese’s ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’ drops next week in the UK. This week we got David O. Russell’s ‘American Hustle’. These are both big films, with huge casts and well-respected directors at the helm. The buzz around ‘American Hustle’ has been largely positive and while Scorcese’s latest looks to be the more seductively dark movie judging by the trailers alone, I nonetheless looked forward to checking it out.
‘American Hustle’, or ‘American Bullshit’ as it was originally titled, is loosely based on the Abscam sting operation undertaken by the FBI in the late 70’s. The movie’s huge cast features a lot of actors who have worked with Russell before on his previous movies – Amy Adams and Christian Bale from ‘The Fighter’, and Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro from ‘Silver Linings Playbook’. Much like that latter film, ‘American Hustle’ much prefers to let its characters talk and interact naturally than to advance the story in any linear fashion. The dialogue, mostly improvised, leads to some great exchanges between the main players but at time seems a bit drawn out and laboured. The central sting operation itself isn’t exactly the most exciting of plots and I found that coupled with these extended improv scenes, the 138min running time really verged into arse-numbing territory.
There’s also an odd tone to the film that left me wondering what Russell’s intentions are. Amy Adams gives a lot of Very Serious Speeches throughout, yet she is possibly the best con artist out of the lot of them so I’m not sure how genuine her performance is meant to be taken. This coupled with the fact that Jennifer Lawrence gives an absolutely hilarious turn as Bale’s wife, ripping through the film like a tornado of big hair and fancy nail polish and nearly stealing the whole film in her wake, makes for an uneven tone throughout. There are some redeeming features in here though – Bale’s relationship with Jeremy Renner’s doomed Mayor Carmine Polito is heart-breaking in its dissolution. Elsewhere my man Louis C.K. turns in a great performance as Cooper’s downtrodden superior at the FBI. Also, and this is purely for my own amusement, I found the fact that two of HBO’s ‘Boardwalk Empire’ stars (Shea Whigham and Jack Huston) get involved in a dubious money-making scam to rejuvenate gambling in Atlantic City to be quite fitting.
Will ‘American Hustle’ go on to win a load of awards this year? Probably, but I’m not so convinced it is the modern classic that it’s being hailed as. The inconsistent tone, derivative 70s soundtrack and fast-tracked ending undermines the mostly excellent cast and few moments of choice dialogue throughout. Like all the greatest scams though, I suppose I always going to come away from this film feeling a bit short-changed.
6 money-stuffed briefcases / 10