Film Review: American Hustle

American Hustle, directed by David O’ Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), is the story of two successful con-artists Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams respectively, who become involved with Bradley Cooper’s Richie DiMaso, an overambitious FBI agent.

Similarly to Silver Linings, American Hustle walks a fine, often uneasy line between comedy and drama; you might view it as a comedy which takes itself too seriously, or drama which does not take itself seriously enough, but either way, for the most part it works okay. The film is strongly anchored by a brilliant, De Niro-esque performance from Bale, whose slick, sleazy, grotesque conman, Irving, is fleshed out as surprisingly gentle, romantic and insecure. O’Russell opens the film strongly with an extensive scene of Irving constructing his elaborate hairpiece, drawing us into the tension in the film between the ‘face’ adopted by each character and the person underneath it all. Jennifer Lawrence also does a great job with Rosalyn, Irving’s estranged, capricious wife with whom we sympathise whilst laughing at her as she threatens Irving’s need for control.

The main problem with American Hustle is that it lacks a strong enough narrative to make its 140 minutes of screen time sufficiently compelling. For such a slight – and unoriginal – story, the film would have been far more effective at a more concise length which would have allowed for enough character development without losing any momentum. There are numerous areas which could have been reduced – certainly, most of the scenes dealing with the police/FBI were uninteresting and clichéd, particularly concerning DiMaso’s relationship with his boss (with whom he violently clashes in a scene which is shocking, unfunny and out-of-character. Additionally, the storyline concerning the fake sheikh was overlong and far less funny than it needed to be.

O’Russell evidently wanted to establish a strong dynamic between the characters as personal emotions conflate with personal ambitions, but for the most part, this causes the narrative to drag. This is not helped by the increasing unlikability of Cooper and Adams’ characters, who flirt and back-stab for about half-an-hour longer than we would care to watch, while Irving’s touching bromance with Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner on top form) is left criminally underdeveloped.

For a film to put so much into exploring character relationships, the superficiality of comedy needs to be more tightly controlled: humour thrives in more serious dramas such as the comparable Goodfellas, but comedy works best at the level of caricature. This ambiguity in the genre causes a dissonance in the viewer which is very much exacerbated by the excessive running time. Nevertheless, despite all its flaws, American Hustle is a very enjoyable film, thanks to some good writing and, in no small degree, to Bale and Lawrence’s performances; it’s just a shame it isn’t a whole lot better.


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