20 January 2014

Short review: American Hustle

(Dir: David O. Russell, 2013)

The greatest hustle pulled by American Hustle is the number of award nominations it's garnered this season. Perhaps there's a guilt that David O. Russell's far superior Silver Linings Playbook didn't win enough last year? The reality is that American Hustle is a film deserving of recognition for the strange combination of it's acting, music and hair. It's not a special or exceptional film in any shape of form, it's merely a good film where these elements shine. 

At what point does it become cliché to say Christian Bale is damn good in a film? Inevitably he is again here, going somewhat method with weight gain and a sleazy nature. The same can begin to be said for Amy Adams who throws around a salacious confidence that brings every man to their knees before they realise they've been played. Bradley Cooper continues on the path of wise career choices after The Place Beyond the Pines and the aforementioned Silver Linings Playbook, playing in a slightly off the cuff and mildly volatile way. Whilst Jennifer Lawrence again sheds her Hunger Games sterility in a lightly crazed but intriguing manner and Jeremy Renner is a convincingly smooth man of the people. All good con's should be based in some form of reality right? The quality of the cast is just that.

Where American Hustle falters is with it's story. It all feels blandly unexciting and seems to lose grip of what it wants to achieve as it builds and builds and begins to sprawl, culminating in a pay-off that's both unsurprising and underwhelming, but more engaging than most of what's come before. There are pockets of good stuff along the way, chiefly in the relationships between these characters, but after the first half hour or so of establishing them you begin not to care so much. The seventies vibe permeating throughout feels like a character of itself, with the intricately ugly hairstyles, bad fashion and funky music, which helps lift things but only in an intangible way. Would the film be any different set in another decade? Probably not. Acting aside, this is a curious film to be receiving such high praise as it's a long way from Russell's best work and is hampered by a lack of personality and originality. After all it's just another film about people conning people. The lethargic pacing doesn't help either and it's much longer than it needs to be. All that said American Hustle still manages to be a good film, but that's it, and if it weren't for the quality of the cast it would be almost immediately forgettable.

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