Oscar Bait Season: American Hustle
Reviewed by Jordan Goodier
“David O. Russell has done it again!” scream the critics and folks that decide who gets nominated at the various award ceremonies. American Hustle is the latest film in O. Russell’s ever growing filmography that earned tons of respect from the film going community. Written by both Russell and co-writer Eric Warren Singer, the film is loosely based on a “FBI ABSCAM operation in the late 1970s and early ’80s”. The film has an all star cast with Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner in the lead roles.
The main plot of the film follows Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Adams) who are con artists, and two of the best at what they do. They end up drawing too much attention to themselves because of their success and are then forced by FBI agent Richard DiMaso (Cooper) to set up an increasingly elaborate sting operation in order to catch corrupt politicians. One such politician, Carmine Polito (the mayor of Camden, New Jersey; played by Jeremy Renner), is central to this operation; however, things become more complicated when Rosenfeld starts caring about Carmine and his family. Matters are further complicated by the complex relationship between Irving, his wife Rosalyn and Sydney; whom Irving wants to start a relationship with but doesn’t wish to leave his son with Rosalyn.
The most complicated part of this film is all the intricate relationships between the characters and how they almost end up ruining the operation that Richard DiMaso is running. The performances from all the cast are all fairly good, though Cooper as DiMaso isn’t particularly interesting and Jennifer Lawrence’s performance (whilst good) feels like she’s retreading already covered ground from last year’s “Silver Linings Playbook”. The film is decent enough and it’s solid entertainment, but it feels like a very generic Oscar Bait film. The bad kind, where there’s nothing particularly remarkable about it – not even the performances. Even Christian Bale feels like he’s playing a mash-up of characters he’s portrayed in the past. Throw his character from The Prestige in with his character from The Fighter (another David O. Russell film) and you’ve got a fairly decent idea of the performance he gives here. I’m getting off track a little, but the whole film seems just a bit too uninspired for me. To add further evidence that it’s a mash up of things we’ve already seen before, guess which actor’s back playing the kind of role that he’s famous for, even if it’s only in one scene? Robert De Niro, as a mob boss.
Apparently this film was supposed to be funny as well? I may have chuckled at a few of Jennifer Lawrence’s scenes because she’s great at playing damaged people who suffer from mental well-being issues and say unintentional humorous things, but this film’s not funny. There isn’t really much tension in the film either, I wasn’t leaning forward on my seat wondering what was going to happen next, I wasn’t worried about the characters at all. Heck, I barely cared about them.
There’s something wrong with this movie for me, I enjoyed it whilst I was watching it, but it doesn’t feel like anything substantial; it doesn’t do anything different with the script or the actors or the directing or the cinematography. It’s just a bland, generic “hey, we’ll put really good actors into this story about a historical event – but we won’t put too much effort into it to change the formula. In fact, we won’t put too much effort in at all. And neither should the actors. Just let them do what they’ve done before, what we know works”. That was more long winded that intended, but you get the idea. For me, this film was what the term “Oscar Bait” was made for. A film made with no thoughts about pushing any boundaries in any way, be it with directing, writing or the performances – and it being made specifically to win awards. And look at that… half way there already.
Sorry the 90%+ majority that think this film’s worth a damn, I just don’t see it; uninspired and lazy, even with all the talent involved.