Review – American Hustle

A story about people doing anything to survive may not sound like a laugh riot, but David O. Russell’s wild ride through the hair strewn world of 70s era grifters is irresistibly entertaining.

Featuring performances as crazy as the film is chaotic, American Hustle is a feast for the senses and as much fun as you'll have in front of the big screen this year

Featuring performances as crazy as the film is chaotic, American Hustle is a feast for the senses and as much fun as you’ll have in front of the big screen this year

Russell has a thing for dysfunctional families, from boxer Mickey Ward’s (Mark Wahlberg) mouthy clan in The Fighter to the parents of Pat (Bradley Cooper) in Silver Linings Playbook, who are almost as nuts as he is.

In American Hustle, Russell cranks it up another notch by having Christian Bale’s con artist Irving Rosenfeld married to the deeply unhappy Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), while also having a mistress in the form of ex-stripper Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), who becomes Irv’s partner-in-crime by posing as an English aristocrat in order to better sell his money-making scams.

Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and partner-in-crime/girlfriend Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) in American Hustle

Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and partner-in-crime/girlfriend Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) in American Hustle

When they’re trapped by FBI agent Richie Di Maso (Cooper) they’re forced to help set up an elaborate sting operation (based loosely on the FBI’s Abscam operation) involving a fake Sheikh that at first targets popular New Jersey politician Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) before becoming something much bigger, and far more dangerous.

Russell’s affinity for families extends to the repertoire of actors he has formed during his career, with The Fighter‘s Bale and Adams and Silver Linings Playbook‘s Cooper and Lawrence returning, all be it in very different guises.

American HustleIn another Machinist-esque body transformation, Bale’s rotund Irv Rosenfeld (he gained 40 lbs for the role) is arguably his most complete performance to date. The “elaborate” comb over that we see Irv methodically setting in place at the start of the film thanks to plenty of hair glue and spray speaks to the polished act he puts on for the world that’s always a gust of wind away from falling apart.

FBI agent Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper) and con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) in American Hustle

FBI agent Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper) and con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) in American Hustle

Richie’s tight, manicured perm equally sends out a message of control that is at odds with the character once things start to get heavy. Cooper does his best work with Russell and brings plenty of entertaining tics to the table to make Richie a memorable character.

Russell has spoken publicly of his interest in strong female roles and the work of both Adams and Lawrence is outstanding. Adams especially is a powerhouse and oozes self-confidence and self-loathing in equal measure. Sydney is the smartest person in the room and it’s easy to understand why both Irv and Richie are so drawn to her.

A fantastic ensemble is the key to the success of American Hustle

A fantastic ensemble is the key to the success of American Hustle

Renner, who also sports a hairdo that can best be described as “very 70s”, holds his own as a politician doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, while a brief cameo from an uncredited Robert De Niro is one of the film’s many highlights.

American Hustle is very much the bastard offspring of Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson, while Steven Soderbergh could very well be its godfather (pun not intended). It’s impossible to watch the kinetic camerawork and quick zooms and not be reminded of Goodfellas and Casino, while the beautiful squalor of Boogie Nights is also evoked. Likewise, the caper element is very reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven, all be it without the smugness.

Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) kind-of admires his gut in American Hustle

Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) kind-of admires his gut in American Hustle

At 138 minutes, the film feels too long and could have done with a 20-minute trim to make it truly great instead of very good. On the flip side, we’re treated to more of Russell’s razor-sharp dialogue and amusing vignettes, not least of which the whole “science oven” (aka microwave) sequence and Lawrence’s OTT stab at Paul McCartney’s Live And Let Die in her rubber kitchen gloves.

Featuring performances as crazy as the film is chaotic, American Hustle is a feast for the senses and as much fun as you’ll have in front of the big screen this year.

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31 comments

  1. vinnieh · January 7, 2014

    Excellent review, I’m going to see this tomorrow.

    • Three Rows Back · January 7, 2014

      Thanks very much buddy. Hope you enjoy. Look forward to your thoughts.

  2. Mark Walker · January 7, 2014

    Outstanding review sir! Even though I haven’t seen it yet, it’s sounds like you’ve given it a thorough dissection. I hope to it soon.

    • Three Rows Back · January 10, 2014

      You’re too kind Mark! I will very much be looking forward to your thoughts on this. Make sure you catch it on the big screen.

  3. le0pard13 · January 7, 2014

    As I’ve been telling everyone, American Hustle is my new favorite David O. Russell film. Fine look at this.

    • Three Rows Back · January 10, 2014

      Hmmm, I think you could be right there, although I have a real soft spot for Three Kings. Thanks for the kind words.

  4. Filmbird · January 7, 2014

    Hi, great review. I agree about it being slightly too long therefore slightly slow, but as you say, the performances and characters are so good it makes up for it!

    • Three Rows Back · January 10, 2014

      Thanks very kind of you to say; and glad you agree. There are points when the scissors should have been used, but I was enjoying myself so much I was willing to forgive it!

  5. Brittani · January 7, 2014

    Great review! I loved this one, I had such a good time watching it.

    • Three Rows Back · January 10, 2014

      That’s great to hear. Most fun I’ve had watching a movie for a long time 🙂

  6. jjames36 · January 7, 2014

    Great review! I agree on almost every point.

    • Three Rows Back · January 10, 2014

      Very glad to hear you’re on board with this as much as I was. It’s very hard not to have a smile on your face watching this.

  7. ckckred · January 7, 2014

    Nice review. I agree about the film’s flaws (it runs on a bit too long and feels somewhat messy at parts), but I can’t deny it was a lot of fun.

    • Three Rows Back · January 10, 2014

      Much appreciated my friend. It’s a blast isn’t it? I’ve not enjoyed myself as much watching a movie for a long time; in spite of its flaws.

  8. CMrok93 · January 7, 2014

    Just about everybody in this flick steals at least one or two scenes. The ones who get the most chances to do so are both Cooper and Lawrence, showing that it doesn’t matter if O. Russell pairs them together or not, they’re just as exciting and invigorating to watch as anything else going on. Good review.

    • Three Rows Back · January 10, 2014

      It’s one of those films isn’t it? It’s a generous film in a lot of ways and the none of the cast try to outdo each other. Russell seems to have a great knack for dialogue and picking the right actors to utter it. Thanks a lot Dan.

  9. Popcorn Nights · January 8, 2014

    Nice review. I’m going to go see this tonight or tomorrow night and really looking forward to it now.

    • Three Rows Back · January 10, 2014

      Much appreciated. I see your review’s up there; will go over and take a peek.

  10. chris2508 · January 8, 2014

    Stellar review. Not seen this yet but I can’t wait.

    • Three Rows Back · January 10, 2014

      Why thank you buddy. Hope you’ve had a chance to catch it; let me know your thoughts when you do 🙂

  11. Dan · January 8, 2014

    Definitely intrigued to see this and encouraged by the generally positive reviews it is getting. O’Russell’s an interesting director who seems to get the best out of the material and the actors he works with.

    • Three Rows Back · January 10, 2014

      I think you’ll enjoy it Dan. The characters are so well drawn and performed and the set up makes for great cinema. Thanks for the feedback.

  12. ruth · January 9, 2014

    I really enjoyed this movie! Props for Russell for doing films w/ strong female characters, and those two actresses certainly are fantastic here. I LOVE Bale here, that opening sequence w/ his toupee alone is worth the price of admission!

    • Three Rows Back · January 10, 2014

      Absolutely; Russell has put his money where his mouth is when it comes to writing really strong female parts; arguably stronger than the male ones. And you’re right; that opening scene is priceless. The audience I watched it with were wondering what was going on there!

  13. Zoë · January 10, 2014

    Great review! Really looking forward to seeing this!

    • Three Rows Back · January 10, 2014

      Thanks so much Zoe! Look forward to your review when you get chance to seee it.

  14. danmart1n · January 17, 2014

    Looking forward to watching this. The length is a little daunting but I’m glad to see the rest of the film makes up for it!

    • Three Rows Back · January 17, 2014

      Most of it will fly by, although it does sag in the middle a little. Hope you enjoy!

  15. Tom · January 18, 2014

    Righteous. There was a lot of fun to be had here, yet I was led to believe by trailers it was going to be so much more. Hmm…am I too much of a gripe, Mark? 😉

    • Three Rows Back · January 18, 2014

      Ha ha. Righteous indeed! It’s been a couple of weeks since I saw it and it’s already slipping from my memory, which suggests you could be onto something. You ain’t never a gripe Tom!

  16. table9mutant · January 26, 2014

    “American Hustle is very much the bastard offspring of Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson, while Steven Soderbergh could very well be its godfather (pun not intended).” Exactly! Well put. Great review. : )

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