Film: American Hustle

Hopefully, I have learned my lesson after this one: I don’t like David O. Russell movies. American Hustle (2013), his follow-up to the critically acclaimed Silver Linings Playbook, is a visually rich 1970s period piece full of Oscar-friendly performances from great actors. And I kind of hated it.

Partially based on a true story, American Hustle tells the tale of an unlikely romance between two con artists: the shlubby Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale) and the beautiful Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). They channel their mutual attraction into hustling easy marks, until they get on the radar of FBI man Richie DeMaso (Bradley Cooper), who uses his leverage over them to employ them in an operation to land bigger fish. Ultimately, they go after a good-hearted but shifty mayor in New Jersey, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner).

It’s a promising milieu, and the story is rich with potential: there are twists and complications galore. The subject matter is right up my alley, and oh, the cast. Bale is particularly immersive, but Adams shines, and there’s great support from Renner and Jennifer Lawrence and even Louis C.K. in a small role. The only problem is, I didn’t give a shit about what any of them were saying. Russell’s directorial shtick seems to be: throw great actors in conflict and let them go. It seems to please Oscar voters, but to me it’s all flash and bombast. I actually find the acting — even excellent acting — very distracting in Russell’s movies. It’s histrionics at the expense of story. Movies about con artistry require a certain touch, but Russell’s style doesn’t mesh with the material. Indeed, it seems one step removed from it except inasmuch as it generates friction for his star-studded cast.

I left this one scratching my head that a film featuring Adams, Lawrence, and Renner about con artists in the 1970s could leave me so cold. Maybe if Martin Scorsese had written and directed it? I guess Russell’s style just doesn’t work for me. Oh well.

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