American Hustle (2013) Review

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American Hustle - 2013 - CC. Columbia Pictures
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“You’re nothing to me until you’re everything.” – Sydney Prosser, American Hustle (2013)

There is nothing I appreciate more than my parents buying me films I do not own. My Dad bought me this on Blu-Ray, so I felt obliged to watch it as soon as possible. A whole five months later I finally got through the backlog to this film. It’s not as if I was avoiding the film, I was in fact looking forward to it. To be fair it always takes me a very long while to get round to these sort of films. An over two hour biopic? God, it feels more like a slog than a fun bit of movie watching experience.

Robert De Niro shows up for, I shit you not, one scene in this film. Aside from his random appearance, the rest of the cast do some fine work throughout. Christian Bale and Amy Adams have some superb chemistry and even better performances. Where it falls apart for me however is Michael Pena and Jennifer Lawrence, the latter of the two being the worst of all. I’m not sure what it was but there’s genuinely something wrong with Lawrence’s performance. She’s usually so fantastic, but every actor has an off day and this is no exception to that rule. It’s not the worst performance in the film, not that I can remember anyway. Maybe it’s that accent, that’s what I’m putting it down to.

An unrecognisable Christian Bale gives a truly brilliant performance in an albeit dull film (American Hustle – 2013 – CC. Columbia Pictures)

Just a quick note on the performance of Bradley Cooper in this film because I had some very mixed opinions on it. On the one hand it was some of the most emotional stuff Cooper has ever had the chance to deliver and to see that was great. But on the other hand it’s just the same Cooper we see in The Hangover (2009) but this time he’s wearing silly clothes. Sure, props to him for branching out into drama, it just would’ve been nicer if it was a better role for the guy. Still, he does have a great scene towards the end where he has a breakdown of some description. He performs that with a certain grace that does steal the limelight away from the rest of the cast a tiny bit.

Let’s just talk about Bale for a second because I do feel bad that I’m giving this film a rather mediocre rating when his performance is absolutely brilliant. His performance as Irving Rosenfeld was honestly the only performance in this film that I actually fully believed. Actually that’s a sort of lie, Amy Adams as always delivers some truly fine work as Sydney Prosser. The chemistry between the two is possibly one of the most expanded upon parts of the film. But the problem with this is that the initial chemistry is ruined by the direction and writing of David O. Russell. I’ve only seen one Russel film, but to be quite honest after seeing his direction here I can’t say I’d ever want to watch another.

Apparently Louis C.K. is in this film but he plays such an oddly small role I’d completely forgotten about him. From what I can remember however he works pretty well alongside Bradley Cooper. He’s never integral to the plot, which, given current circumstances is sort of a good idea. It’s the same for Trumbo (2015) where C.K. shows up in a minor role and then never really does much for the entire runtime. The same can be said for Jeremy Renner too, if we factor in his work in Avengers Assemble (2012) he often gets sidelined. Evidently, throughout this film he becomes more a filler piece for the plot than anything else. In a way it is quite a shame considering he is a very talented actor.

It’s never a good sign when one of the best parts of the film is the soundtrack. That being said, there are some hellishly good songs throughout. Never before have I seen a film with the balls to use Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”. Not even Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) did that and he was in that fucking film. Hell, even Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” makes an appearance, along with a few other great hits from the time period. Tom Jones and The Bee Gees are amongst the many bands and musicians to have music featured throughout this film. It doesn’t detract from many scenes, but the amount it adds to the mediocre proceedings is debatable at best.

The cast is impressive, but their performances do little to add to the tone (American Hustle – 2013 – CC. Columbia Pictures)

Regardless of musical choice though, there’s only so many hit 70s tracks you can play before people pick apart the film. What I found was that it’s a hell of a cliche mess throughout. Apart from the opening ten minutes or so of the film which was built up quite nicely, the rest really does begin to falter. It becomes a mockery of itself in a way, with the cliche motif of each character reaching boiling point. The love triangle that becomes a love square is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen too. Possibly one of the worst parts about the film is that love quadrilateral.

Now that’s certainly not to say the film doesn’t have some great moments. The creation and planning of the Sheek meeting was superb, it’s a shame the subsequent scenes didn’t pay off. They should have done, everything was put into place for it to be some memorable movie magic. Quite honestly I have no clue why it didn’t work, I am as clueless as the next average viewer.

Verdict

An overlong period piece that tries too much to tap into Scorsese’s Casino and even shows hints of The Godfather (1971) style dynamics. Some performances are much better than others, with Christian Bale being a stand out star in this one. Other cast members truly falter though, with Bradley Cooper bringing nothing to the table in his empty shell of a performance. Still, it could have been worse.

Having said that though it could have been a hell of a lot better. For starters it could have been an hour shorter. Actually, scratch that, just don’t bother making it. There are so many similar films to the extent of this that it just feels like everything we’re seeing is a mere rehash of what it could be. It’s difficult to write about this film because the majority of it does genuinely seem to be just filler. It was a clumsy display and that’s honestly a shame.

Biopics, to me, often have a foot in the door already before I even begin watching. They’re a genre that I truly do enjoy. So to find one that I don’t enjoy is genuinely quite puzzling. American Hustle, I’m afraid, just doesn’t do all that much for me. It’s glossy, sure, but that doesn’t make it a good film. While it may capture the spirit of the times it tries so desperately to replicate, it has nothing in the way of interesting story. Not to mention that damn stupid romantic plot, which these days seems to hinder more films than its truly worth. It’s never good when your Dad walks in halfway through a film and asks if Christian Bale is playing an aged version of Austin Powers.


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REVIEW OVERVIEW
American Hustle
Ewan Gleadow
I've been writing for various different places for roughly four or five years now. Currently focusing my writing on film reviews, politics and occasional game reviews. Hopefully you enjoy my work, be sure to contact me if you have any criticisms or praise.

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