Cert: 15 / 138 mins / Dir. David O. Russell
So, Batman, Lois Lane, Hawkeye, Mystique and Rocket Racoon all walk into a mobster's attorney's office… stop me if you've heard it, yeah? David O.Russell's latest movie packs a solid cast into two and a half hours of lying, scheming, conniving and more side-boob than the M*il Online's sidebar puts out in an entire hour*1. The players have been hired to bring their A-Game, and bring it they do, but the film never quite reaches the heights you feel it's capable of. The soundtrack and wardrobe should be pointing toward a feelgood groove of Anchorman levels, especially in the first act where we're meeting the characters at the top of their game, but director Russell doesn't let us forget for a second that there's trouble ahead. Unfortunately when that trouble arrives, we don't really care enough for any of the shifty chancers to feel its full impact.
There are some truly fantastic moments in American Hustle, bringing greed, trust, anger and humour into the mix, but they don't really gel together to make a great story; it's more a collection of great scenes. Not knowing how much of the depicted action is 'true'*2, the plot seems to be a scattergun affair, always entertaining but needlessly complex (or if not complex then over-detailed and under-explained). The problem (for me) is that it's sort of like a mashup between The Godfather and an episode of Hustle, both of which I love, but both of which are structured more… well, coherently. In keeping with the format of the BBC con-man series, there's a reveal sequence at the climax of the film, but it feels rushed and nowhere near as satisfying as it should (for reasons which are too spoilery to go into in this review). Russell does a lovely job of making the audience feel as uneasy as the characters, the more they get out of their depth, but they payoff seems nowhere near as outlandish as the events which brought everyone there. I suspect this is where the 'true-story' aspect has its limitations, and that there's a far more exciting movie to be made with the same cast.
But fair play to casting director Mary Vernieu for finally putting Robert De Niro back onscreen as a genuinely threatening presence; it's a relief to see that he has still got it. Enough of this grumpy-old-man rom-com shit, already.
Not quite everything it could (or should) be, American Hustle is worth the price of admission just to see a great cast give some fine performances. There's just the nagging feeling that it's all for nought; too exaggerated to be real, not enough fun to be fiction.
The film's not as slick as the trailer.
For me, not quite.
As fun as the film is, you may get more out of it watching at home.
Amy Adams' Brit-voice is meant to be all over the shop, right? Like it's an audible metaphor for the con, or something? Because if not, it just seems like she couldn't hold an accent if she had two 15" catcher's mitts, coated in superglue…
*1 Sarcasm aside, it's a little worrying that cinematographer Linus Sandgren spends so much time looking at Amy Adams' boobs, whereas the rest of us would get a restraining order.
*2 A title card at the beginning of the film tells us "Some of these events actually happened", and while that's fine, I'm getting a bit hacked off with the amount of true-story cinema lately. If I want true, I'll watch the news, thanks. And yes, I'm very aware that this trend isn't over yet. The next two movies I'll be watching are fact-based, albeit each with a sufficiently noteworthy basis. Wow. How's that for reverse film-snobbery? Look, just give me some fucking superheroes, alright?
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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