Adam Cook’s review published on Letterboxd:
David O. Russell’s American Hustle is a wayward story of excess, lies and empty grandstanding. Quite what awards voters saw in this hollow nonsense is beyond me but then I felt the same way about the director’s previous Oscar-bothering movie too as a group of talented actors mug their way through a film that is long, aimless and instantly forgettable - an impressive feat considering the larger than life characters that endlessly parade around the gaudy hotel rooms.
Loosely inspired by the Abscam scandal, American Hustle is the story of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a flabby and balding con man who, with the help of his partner in crime (Amy Adams), is forced to work with the FBI to entrap a group of crooked Jersey politicians. It’s a frivolous crime caper where everybody is lying and everyone deserves their comeuppance.
Uniting the actors of his biggest films to date (The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook) the movie is brimming with star-wattage. Bale once again transforms himself, this time into a pot-bellied con artist with a conscience, whilst Adams is excellent in the one genuinely interesting role in the film. It’s rather a shame that her wonderful wardrobe and the leering camerawork almost distracts the audience from the quality of her performance.
Sadly, the rest of the cast simply drown in the pantomime excess of their characters. A permed and preening Bradley Cooper delivers a one-note performance as the ambitious FBI agent who brings the operation together whilst Jennifer Lawrence is utterly wasted in her role as Bale’s troublesome wife. Not that it is really the fault of the actors as they all gamely embrace the frenetic energy of the film and indulgence of the era but it is all so showy and superficial. It may fit the theme that Russell continually labours on but it quickly becomes tiring and overwhelming as if the film only has one volume setting.
Russell has essentially created a Greatest Hits movie; yet rather than being all killer and no filler I was wishing I could simply skip to the good stuff. From the film’s ensemble cast to its hits of the 1970s musical playlist, everything seems engineered to grab the attention. Unfortunately, once it has your attention it is unsure quite what to do with it so piles on the distractions - overacting, cleavage, sweeping cameras, starry cameos and a bit more cleavage - whilst failing to create rich characters or a compelling story.
In recent years there has been a surge in film’s distorting the American Dream and revealing the excess and corruption that lies beneath it. Although the ‘70s period setting provides some novelty there is little here that we haven’t seen before, particularly when the film drifts into territory repeatedly mined by filmmakers like Martin Scorsese. Perhaps the reference points are unavoidable - a nostalgic crime drama set in New York is always likely to recall Goodfellas - but for all its braggadocio the film rarely has a personality of its own.
I can appreciate why people have enjoyed the film - it’s in your face and possesses a confidence and swagger that is initially appealing. Unfortunately, whilst the cast appear to be having fun the dazzling decadence and low-cut outfits quickly wore thin. Sadly, by the time the film finally came together again I had lost all interest in the plan and the people and no amount of attention-grabbing trickery and frippery was going to get it back.