The Gustavian Weekly

American Hustle is stylish but confusing for audiences

By Brady Lass Staff Writer | May 2, 2014 | variety

Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, and Jennifer Lawrence all appear in the Oscar-nominated film, American Hustle. Creative Commons

Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, and Jennifer Lawrence all appear in the Oscar-nominated film, American Hustle. Creative Commons

Director David O. Russell has been on a roll for the last few years.  He’s directed critically-acclaimed Oscar-winning movies such as The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, which succeeded thanks to his direction and top notch casting. Now, he’s combined the best of both casts to create the crime dramedy known as American Hustle. It tied with Gravity for the most Oscar nominations of 2013, but unfortunately wasn’t lucky enough to win any of those ten nominations. Does American Hustle deserve the praise it gets, or should it be locked up like a corrupt politician?

The story is based on the real life incident known as ABSCAM.  FBI agent Richie DiMaso arrests dating con artists Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser (who pretends to be an English aristocrat named Edith Greensly) and forces them to help him expose corrupt politicians through a sting operation.  They have to overcome many complications for this to work, including deceiving Mayor Carmine Polito, near death experiences with mobs, and the unpredictability of Irving’s zany wife, Rosalyn (Yes, I know Irving and Sydney are dating.  It’s complicated . . . ).

The story succeeds with well-written dialogue that gives the actors a lot to work with. All the characters have a unique relationship with one another, which are explored beautifully.  It’s funny, dramatic, and entertaining to watch the way these characters interact. Russell’s films have succeeded with their well-written characterization and dialogue. It also has a great sense of unpredictability because for the majority of the film, it’s hard to realize who the true villain of this movie is.

The biggest problem the film has is it can be too smart for its own good. The plot is hard to follow. At first, I thought I was not intelligent enough to get it and felt myself relating to Jennifer Lawrence’s character, who was just as confused as I was about what was going on. I have discussed this film further with people who have experience with a wide variety of films, and even they felt confused. It wasn’t until the ending that I fully understood everything. The ending does a good job of wrapping things up and telling everyone what happened, but it was frustrating to wait that long to be able to say, “Oh! Now I get it!”

Certain decisions were questionable as well, such as how Irving and Sydney’s relationship played out. They show jealousy towards each other when Irving is seen with Rosalyn, or Sydney  with Richie, but they know their feelings towards each other, and they know they fake their feelings towards other people.  Considering they also come from a business that relies on faking their feelings towards a person, some moments made me question why there was jealousy in the first place.

As with most Russell movies, the power of this movie comes from the acting.  Christian Bale releases his inner Godfather mode with his smooth Boston accent and calm demeanor. Amy Adams had the difficult task of performing two characters in one, and she pulls it off.

The more outstanding performances have to go to Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.  Jennifer Lawrence’s character is ditzy, arrogant, drunk, and full of herself. She looks like she’s having a blast playing the character, and that type of enthusiasm can spread to the audience. It’s great to see Russell’s films put Jennifer in adult roles when most filmmakers put actors her age into teenager roles. Cooper’s character has the most interesting development in terms of his character.  He’s shown to be sympathetic with his dedication towards his job and desire to achieve something big, but his methods make the audience question how they view him. He’s the good cop and the bad cop and not the kind from the Lego Movie.

The film’s greatest strength is the sense of style.  The clothing is distinct and helps you remember the characters better. The music is jazzy and fits the mood while also being catchy. The setpieces are memorable and can sometimes reflect the mood of the characters. Russell’s professional directing shines here and undoutedly was one of the biggest contributions to this film’s accolades.

It’s hard to recommend a film like American Hustle to casual movie goers. The plot is very hard to follow, and the movie’s a bit too long to wait for the ending to clear everything up. If you appreciate various aspects on how a film works, then it’s highly recommendable. The brilliant directing, the witty dialogue, the memorable acting, and the distinct style all make this movie worth seeing. Whether it’s Russell’s best, is up for debate, but on its own, American Hustle is a solid film.