David O Russell follows up the enormously successful Silver Lining Playbook with American Hustle. But is it a film worthy of all the Oscar hype?
Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Adams), two loved up con artists, are enlisted by FBI agent Richie Di Masso (Cooper) to ensnare politician Carmine Polito (Renner). As the operation grows at an unmanageable rate, Irving’s scorned wife Rosalyn (Laurence) watches on from the sidelines, an increasingly explosive and unknown entity, who threatens to destroy them all.
American Hustle is a difficult film to categorise. Funny but not a comedy, factually based but not a factual drama and made in the mould of a traditional crime caper. Without being a crime caper.
This sense of not knowing what it is or where to pitch itself is at times a problem. The film sometimes feels a little bit stretched and you sense it’s trying to make a bigger and more meaningful point about performance and perception that’s never quite realised. However, this slight tonal confusion may also be its main appeal.
The breathless, breakneck speed with which circumstance and situation change makes for an enjoyable journey through American Hustles slightly surreal and sometimes ridiculous world. Even more impressively it allows for the heavyweight cast to all be given ample screen time, meaning we see five great central performances from five fantastic actors.
The films 1970’s setting lends itself to a familiar aesthetic approach that reminds you at times of Boogie Nights and Saturday Night Fever. But, perhaps that’s where the movies main problem lies. Whilst those films had a depth of meaning and a set of characters that rewarded and encouraged repeat viewings, American Hustle seems thin. In it’s eagerness to articulate the deceptive and untrustworthy nature of appearance it ends up being almost exclusively about what you see on screen.