New to cinemas – 1st January 2014
Quite often, you may like a film more when you’re not watching it than when you are. Case in point: The Usual Suspects, a collection of good scenes that make an excellent movie. That and many others are examples of films that are greater than the sum of their parts. American Hustle is the opposite: it’s worse than the sum of it’s parts, but is fantastically entertaining the whole way through.
Its title would tend to indicate that it’s an exploration of the many different kinds of hustle that go on in America, but it actually turns out to be the same discussion only between genders. Basically, the men hustle their way to the American Dream while the women hustle the guys to their own ends.
That the dream Irving (Christian Bale) and Richie (Bradley Cooper) strive towards is slightly outmoded and culturally irrelevant doesn’t matter too much seeing as it’s set in the ’70s, but the fact that the film it is what it is makes it slightly problematic. It’s a take on the model of established Machiavellian classics such as Casino and Boogie Nights and makes the mistake of not being a homage while still leaning heavily on the films it aspires to stand beside. As a result, the whole thing feels like you’ve seen it before.
It’s also a mess that contains many aspects that really don’t work. Irving isn’t nearly crafted in the right way to be a contender in this labyrinthine con-game, and the kind of plot points that are used feel like they’re only there because they’re supposed to be, making the film seem disappointingly safe. It appears to have been crafted with specific scenes in mind, rather than the big picture.
That being said, I can’t recommend it enough. Each of the lead performances are honestly amazing. Chris Bale does a great job of becoming a wheezing Jewish con artist and uses the weight that he’s put on for the role excellently. Amy Adams plays his irresistible partner in crime, oozing sex appeal and bulling forward through a man’s world with sheer determination. Jennifer Lawrence again stands strong as the accident prone, emotionally wrought yet competitively deceptive wife that Irving tries his best to keep at home, but watching Cooper fly off the handle as a power-hungry FBI agent is the nucleus of the film’s humour, especially his scenes with his overly cautious boss, a hilariously sombre Louis C.K.
It’s all glitz and glamour at the end of the day with too many problems for it to deserve the uproarious praise it’s been getting (a Metascore of 90?) but it’s still everything you go to the movies for, even if you do walk out feeling cheated of the grand climax it seems to be promising all the way through. In time it’ll never stand up as one of the greats people are predicting it to be, but that won’t stop me buying the DVD once it comes out and watching it over and over again.
Also: Praise for featuring little violence and concentrating more on story – too many films sacrifice exposition for stylistically violent set-pieces. At least this takes the aspects of Casino that matter the most.