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Movie Review – American Hustle

That’s right – this baby is SPOILER-FREE!



IMDB Rating: 7.9 out of 10 (44,068 votes)

Director: David O. Russell

The poster for American Hustle.

The poster for American Hustle.

There’s a line between clear and unclear that is very fine, very small, and very easily leads to confusion. To strike up a delicate balance between the two is a very difficult thing to do. Early on in David O. Russell’s ‘American Hustle’ (hey, that rhymes), Russell does not seem to find the balance. Instead, we’re left in the dark for most of the opening 20 or 30 minutes as to just what is really going on. The narration is unreliable and keeps switching perspectives, making it a little difficult to follow, but that is hardly what makes it so hard to catch up with. It’s more that the dialogue isn’t clear enough.

Russell chooses to unravel most, if not all, of his story through what the characters are saying, and that is where this very intimidating line is drawn. To tell a story through dialogue you must truly understand where you are in relation to that line – there is a subtle art being exercised here – and Russell’s latest work seems to be on the unclear side (a good example is Alan Moore’s graphic novel ‘V For Vendetta’, which perfects this subtle art.) There’s only so much you can say on screen before we begin to wonder what is actually playing out in front of us, and to this extent, the opening half hour of ‘American Hustle’ fails. A film needs a hook, and when the clues you’re giving us are so cryptic, so little in quantity, what else are we meant to do but scratch our heads?

But to Russell’s credit, he does relieve us; the next 45 minutes or so are purely setup for what is to come, so the story slows down here a little. We settle down and begin to follow the lives of Irving Rosenfeld (an overweight Christian Bale), his partner in crime Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), his wife Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence), and FBI agent Richie DeMaso (Bradley Cooper). It’s a bit of an odd-couple thing going on; these guys don’t necessarily like each other, but they work with each other for the good of the country (although we get the sense they’re all just doing it for themselves.)

Come for the performances. Stay for the hairstyles.

Come for the performances. Stay for the hairstyles.

But those four aren’t all. As the film branches out, there are more players thrown in to the mix, including mobsters (Robert DeNiro makes an appearance), New Jersey politician Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), and a fake sheikh, among other things. That’s right; it’s unbridled insanity at the hands of Russell, but he manages to pull it off. He’s a master of getting good performances out of his actors and there isn’t a weak link here, just as there wasn’t a weak link in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’. He also manages to write his characters well, each giving them personalities and giving them their moment in the sun, to really flesh out their emotions. Jennifer Lawrence and Christian Bale are the pick of the bunch, but really there isn’t a single performance here that fails to exude an utmost sense of fun, which in essence is what a good film will do.

There is a small problem with the final scene, though. ‘American Hustle’ is a very complex movie in it’s own way, what with most of the plot being moved on by slabs of informative [and sometimes hilarious] dialogue. Not only that, but the plot itself is quite a complex one too, with very fine details. Yet Russell chooses to end his film with a shot of Irving and Sydney looking at each other. Plain and simple. I don’t understand why he ended such a complicated film with just a shot of two people looking at each other. ‘American Hustle’ would’ve benefited from an ending with more of a “wow factor”, an ending that left us thinking. Or maybe I’m just looking for blemishes where they may not be any. Because, in truth, it’s not the final scenes in which the movie shines, in which David O. Russell exercises his true genius, but rather when the film is over. And trust me, that is no taunt.

The funny thing about ‘American Hustle’ is that, for a film about the business of conning, there is very little conning of the audience until the last shot has run it’s course, and the end credits have begun. This gets a massive thumbs-up from me. It would’ve been so easy for David O. Russell to get stuck in the cliché of us being taken for a ride throughout the movie and it all would’ve been just one big game. But no, he doesn’t choose this path. He instead chooses a path where we walk out of the cinema pretty much satisfied that we hadn’t been tricked, thinking the characters had. It’s only when you truly being to process it and think about it, only then will we maybe think it was us that was conned. Because who was most like us in that film? Who was the one at the end of the day, who walked out with his tail between his legs? Once you see the film, you’ll know what I’m talking about, and you may even think to yourself, “Hey, he actually got us pretty good.”

MY  RATING: 8 out of 10.

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