Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Rohan Resists the Hustle

(TODAY'S GUEST: Rohan Morbey, who blogs at Stop Thinking For Yourself UK, checks in post-Golden Globes to share his thoughts on big winner American Hustle, from director David O. Russell. Rohan is good people, and we're always happy to include his posts here, and recommend that you follow Rohan on Twitter.)   

On the surface, American Hustle is enjoyable enough. Great performances, silly wigs, camp 70s outfits, several laughs, and a killer soundtrack are peppered throughout the film meaning there is always something to enjoy visually or aurally. However, the film is turns out to be nothing more than just fun, and is often weighed down by attempts at being something it clearly is not.

Based partly on actual events, American Hustle depicts an FBI sting operation to catch US officials taking bribes, telling its story in an operatic style with five central characters, all played by famous faces. We have Christian Bale packing on the pounds with a ridiculous combover, Amy Adams as his partner (wearing an array of cleavage-busting outfits), and Bradley Cooper as a cocky and over-reaching FBI agent leading the investigations. With Jeremy Renner as one of the officials being set up, and Jennifer Lawrence as Bale’s loose cannon wife, director David O. Russell has rounded up plenty of talent, but their main job turns out to be to paper over the cracks of a screenplay which has precious little intrigue, excitement, or interest.

The film is tonally uneven, never sure if it’s supposed to make us laugh or be high drama from one scene to the next. Despite the consistently strong performances, there are too few stand out scenes in the (needlessly long) 140 minutes running time: a genuinely tense sense with a cameo from Robert De Niro and a great showdown between Bale and Renner are the only two scenes which really stuck with me. This suggests, ultimately, nothing really mattered once the credits rolled and American Hustle is just a string of well acted scenes without anything underpinning the visuals.

After seven films David O. Russell’s career has been of varied quality, but despite becoming a big name in recent years with multiple award nominations, he’s never come close to the recapturing the brilliance he showed in Three Kings in 1999. American Hustle often looks like a director trying to copy the king of these multi-character crime pictures, Martin Scorsese. The quick dolly shot to an actor’s face (used several times on Amy Adams), the steadicam shots around an actor, the pop soundtrack, the use of voiceover throughout the film; it all screams out that this film wants, so desperately, to remind us of Goodfellas, Casino, or even P.T Anderson’s Boogie Nights.

It is fun, it is well acted, and the soundtrack is well worth listening to. Other than that, American Hustle is left wanting and will have to go down as one of the biggest disappointments of 2013, because I was expecting far more than what we got.

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