A con is played featuring politicians, mobsters, the FBI and two people with a complicated relationship.
Review (with Spoilers)
After Silver Linings Playbook, it is hard to not be curious about David O. Russell’s new production featuring the stars of his last movie. Mind you, Jennifer Lawrence is in a smaller role, and Robert De Niro has been reduced to being in one sole scene, but with Christian Bale picking up the slack and Amy Adams replacing Lawrence as female lead, you are given quite the combination which may not be as comical or crazy as fellow con-man focused movie The Wolf of Wall Street, but while Wolf relied on debauchery, style, and outright sensationalism, Hustle has sustenance and takes it times, scatters jokes throughout and is more about the story than having you watch one crazy thing happen after the next.
Characters & Story
The main character of the film is Irving (played by Christian Bale), this creepy looking con man, who mostly specializes in fraudulent loans and art. Alongside side him is business partner/ mistress, Sydney (played by Amy Adams) who seemingly is all he ever needed in a wife. She is smart, cunning, and flexible; but unfortunately for Irving, his wife is Rosalyn (played by Jennifer Lawrence), a woman who seemingly has arrested development. But, though Irving would love to divorce her, between her threatening to take away her son, which he adopted, and dangling threats of snitching, he is trapped.
Leading to the main focus of the story which is when FBI agent Richard, though commonly called Richie (played by Bradley Cooper), catches Sydney and Irving trying to con him. Leading to a series of cons which get more and more complex to the point that you aren’t sure who is on whose side. You see, Sydney pretend to be this English woman named Edith in order to con just about everyone but Irving who helped craft the character, and then with Richie using them both so that he can make a name for himself, this leads these three to go from something small like taking down Camden mayor Carmine Polito (played by Jeremy Renner), to Richie trying to take down the mob leader Victor Tellegio (played by Robert De Niro). This is despite his boss Stoddard (played by Louis C.K.) trying to reign him in whenever possible, but with Richie having a very similar mentality to Rosalyn and trying to make a name for himself, he ends up digging his grave more and more to the point where between Richie’s ambitions and Rosalyn’s big mouth, everything seemingly falls apart.
What sets American Hustle apart from its closest competitor is that all the weight of the movie doesn’t rest on one or two people’s shoulders. Also, as noted in the beginning, there isn’t a reliance on sex, drugs, and excess in order to fuel your interest. Hustle focuses on, albeit through caricatures, telling a true story, with some embellishments and serving it up nicely. Perhaps though what really deserves praise are the portrayals, for though they aren’t award worthy, they can still be considered competition.
The reason I say this is because, the cast embodies these characters to a point where, despite being caricatures, you can actually see them as real people. Take Amy Adams’ Sydney. Perhaps in the film’s best performance, you get a sense of empathy for this character to the point as the film goes on, you begin to believe that perhaps, as much as the men in the film are, maybe you are being conned too? But, don’t take Sydney to just be some floozy, for though both Irving and Richie are cheating on a significant other with Sydney, even outside the relationship drama you are given quite a bit. We are provided with enough details that, especially with Sydney, you can almost create a character analysis in your head and really understand them to the point of even guessing their character’s story trajectory and understanding why they did what they did in the movie.
Leading to the last thing worth noting: the comedic moments. To me, all the leads are guaranteed to make you laugh due to their character’s personality. Lawrence as Rosalyn, for example, seems like she is just the most annoying bits of Lawrence’s public persona amped up and then made funny. Then you have the interaction and lives between Irving and Richie of which the majority of the laughs are given either due to Bale’s ridiculous toupee; Richie’s ego, especially when you combine Stoddard; and other memorable scenes, which keep you engaged.
Really, when it comes to critique, perhaps my main issue is that the con as a whole does feel dragged out as the movie goes on to the point where when it gets more complex, it seems like the writers were trying to reinvigorate the movie. But, again, considering this is a true story, perhaps it is unfair to fault the writers with a con which, in itself, was a bubble waiting to burst. Outside of that, one issue I had is with Robert De Niro’s character. In the film, he plays this menacing mobster and due to the complexity of the con, I must admit I was left unsure if he was part of it, or if he was a real mobster who almost got screwed over, but didn’t, and decided to just stay out of the FBI’s way.
Overall: See in Theaters
Though I like American Hustle, it doesn’t compare to Silver Linings Playbook nor is as entertaining as Wolf of Wall Street. However, I do feel the method of presenting a story featuring caricatures of the actual people the story is based on, rather than try to present something true to life worked well, but while the story is good, the overall movie doesn’t feel like something you should rush to see and I’m sort of on the edge of saying to wait for the DVD release.