Overview: American Hustle is a hushed study of character relationships, personal struggle, and the American dream. 2013; Rated R; 138 minutes.
Setting the Stage: American Hustle is set in the late 70s and the cast flaunts the gaudy outfits and hairstyles to prove it. From the first minutes, viewers are tossed into a morally gray world where con men aren’t all bad and FBI agents aren’t all good. The underlying theme is that everyone here is chasing something. Maybe it’s fame. Maybe it’s fortune. Maybe it’s just a second of happiness. But every character has a strong motive and that twisted look at the idea of the classic American dream keeps the film engaging.
The Long Con: The most impressive con this film ever pulls is convincing anyone that it’s going to be a movie about conning at all. American Hustle can more accurately be described as a study of complex, broken people, who happen to be involved in a few cons in the background. The film’s long con isn’t particularly strong or compelling and viewers probably won’t pay much attention to it. While it is one of the film’s most obvious flaws, the lack of focus on the con does clear the stage for the place where American Hustle excels: the performances.
The Performances: The acting is the backbone of American Hustle. With Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner in the main roles, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more star-studded cast. That said, the playing field isn’t equal. Renner seems genuine as Carmine Polito, a politician with good intentions and the victim of the long con, but he isn’t given much to work with. Cooper, as a rogue FBI agent, and Lawrence, as an erratic wife, are fun to watch, but ultimately predictable in their supporting roles. The standouts are Christian Bale and Amy Adams, who play Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, lovers and partners in crime who are so multi-faceted that viewers will never quite know their motivations. Bale completely commits to the role, having gained 40 pounds and rocking a dramatic comb-over. Adams’ performance is at once graceful, inexact, and impossible to read. When the film is over, it’s still unclear what Sydney actually cared about.
The Little Things: It’s the little things that make this film worthwhile. It’s Louis C.K. and his ability to make anything – seriously anything – funny, even while playing a particularly uptight character. It’s the untamed charisma of every actor’s performance. It’s the subtle smirks that made every character hard to trust. But who knows? Maybe I’m just incapable of disliking any movie that lets Bradley Cooper to show off his hilariously spot-on impression of Louis C.K.
Final Thoughts: American Hustle is a small film masquerading as a high-profile blockbuster. It’s a character study hiding in a long con. While not groundbreaking, it remains a constantly captivating watch.