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Film Review: 'American Hustle'

Ashley Hawkins |
December 22, 2013 | 9:30 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Bradley Cooper as Irving Rosenfeld, Sydney Prosser, and Agent Richie DiMaso in "American Hustle" (Columbia Pictures).
Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Bradley Cooper as Irving Rosenfeld, Sydney Prosser, and Agent Richie DiMaso in "American Hustle" (Columbia Pictures).
As the end of the year quickly approaches, the imminent awards season looms over Hollywood, prompting the releases of “Oscar Bait” films every weekend.

However, although this term typically carries a negative connotation in popular audiences, many (if not most) of these films are entertaining as well as critically celebrated.

 “American Hustle,” David O. Russell’s newest film about 1970s con artists and FBI setups, is an undeniable example of this kind of film – combining a renowned writer-director with an unbelievably incredible cast and a witty storyline to create Academy and box office gold. 

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For the past three years, David O. Russell has been a consistent figure in the awards season. With 2010’s “The Fighter” (nominated for Oscars for Best Motion Picture of the Year and Best Achievement in Directing), Russell – whose previous work mostly consisted of comedies – proved his ability to direct an honest, emotional, and stark portrait of a struggling boxer and his dysfunctional family. Additionally, in 2012, Russell wrote and directed “Silver Linings Playbook” (nominated for Oscars for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Achievement in Directing, and Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay), a delightful and complex romantic comedy that was incredibly human. 

Unsurprisingly, David O. Russell’s talents as a writer-director are again apparent in “American Hustle.” Uniting Christian Bale and Amy Adams from “The Fighter” with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from “Silver Linings Playbook,” Russell creates an unparalleled cast full of Hollywood heavyweights, all of whom are nominated for Golden Globes for their performances in the film. 

Both Amy Adams and Christian Bale (despite his unsavory appearance in the film) are incredibly sleek and sly – the perfect hustlers. Alternatively, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence both portray emotionally unstable characters: the former, a power-thirsty FBI agent and the latter, a depressed and erratic wife.

Although Jennifer Lawrence’s character is markedly less important to the plot than the others, her character is perhaps the most vibrant and memorable, particularly in her powerful scene where she confronts her husband’s mistress, played by Amy Adams, in a bathroom and unexpectedly kisses her on the mouth. Furthermore, Bradley Cooper’s character’s immense rage throughout the film – from his aggressive advances towards Amy Adams to the extremely violent assaults of his boss at the FBI (played by Louis C.K.) – adds dimension to his otherwise typical, overly ambitious character.

With strong direction and exceptional acting, the film’s weakest feature (although still enjoyable) is the plot. Beginning with Irving Rosenfeld, Agent Richie DiMaso, and Sydney Prosser – played by Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Amy Adams, respectively – attempting to setup Mayor Carmine Polito (played by Jeremy Renner), the film opens in the middle of the plot without knowing the details of the situation. Subsequently, the film establishes the background: Rosenfeld, already and established con, meets Sydney and the two begin collaborating – in business and in private.

When Agent DiMaso arrests Sydney, he forces both Sydney and Irving to work with him in order to take down more powerful white-collar criminals, such as politicians – including Mayor Carmine Polito – and members of the mafia. When the film finally arrives chronologically at the point where the film began, the trio’s first meeting with Mayor Polito, approximately an hour of the film has passed with little action or plot progression but an overwhelming amount of setup and character development. 

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In the second half of the film, the relationships between Rosenfeld, DiMaso, and Prosser become strained by a complicated love triangle and the battle for control over the operation between Rosenfeld and DiMaso. As DiMaso becomes increasingly power-hungry, he and his forced accomplices expand the operation to target people that are more powerful, and his character becomes less and less likable: dabbling in drugs, violent outbursts, and even adopting some of Rosenfeld’s expressions and mannerisms. Simultaneously, Rosenfeld – a foil to DiMaso throughout the film – becomes more respectable, honestly feeling guilt over setting up his new friend Mayor Polito and endangering others as the operation grows. 

Yet, even as the scale of the operation increases, the tone of the film sluggishly increases in intensity, rendering the film somewhat boring as the setups become cyclical and the plans become increasingly convoluted. By the end of the film, it is hard to follow each level of deception, probably because the film is simply too long; with a running time of 138 minutes, the film is too long to have so much implied danger and such little actual action. 

Despite the shortcomings of the story, the plot is still marginally compelling, the direction is solid, and the acting is phenomenal, enough so to carry the film through the less captivating sequences. Although it is perhaps a little long, the film is still a must-see, especially because it will almost certainly win at least one award this upcoming awards season. 

Watch the trailer below. 

Reach Staff Reporter Ashley Hawkins here.



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