“American Hustle’s” reputation oversells the good – not great – film


American Hustle press image

The chemistry between the actors is the best element of the movie.

The hard thing about a reputation is that often times it precedes its subject. Before seeing David O. Russell’s latest writing/direction effort, “American Hustle,” word had been spread that the crime-dramedy was one of the year’s best films. The word-of-mouth buzz that the film generated, paired with the outstanding resumés of the film’s cast and crew, made for a reputation nearly impossible to be met.

Set in the mid-to-late 1970’s in New York City, the film follows the exploits of two con-artists who are contracted by the FBI for sting operation designed to incriminate corrupt politicians. Using a fake Sheik as an under-the-table benefactor for public works projects, “Hustle” is the fictionalized retelling of an actual FBI operation known as Abscam (short for Arab-Scam), in which many of the films main plot points derive from.

Without doubt the most consistently impressive element is the performances given by the stellar cast. Christian Bale seemingly effortlessly transforms himself (quite literally, having gained upwards of 40 pounds and growing a comb-over) into a con-man named Irving Rosenfeld, loosely based on real-life Abscam operative Melvin Weinberg. Bale finds heart and relatability in an antihero who has built a livelihood on one of the most foreign professions to a general audience and plays impeccably off of Bradley Cooper’s FBI agent Richie DiMaso.


Similar fantastic inter-character volleys occur between just about every set of counterparts in the movie, whether it’s Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams as Bale’s two lovers, Adams and Bale as con-artists, Cooper and Louis CK as FBI coworkers, or Jeremy Renner and Bale as politician and mole; the use of parallel characters is intriguing and the execution by the actors is phenomenal.

Outside of the acting, little of the movie is satisfying throughout. Although beautifully shot (props to director of photography Linus Sandgren in one of his first American films), the direction lacks focus and is hardly a prime example of David O. Russell’s expertise. Little is done to invest the audience in the story, and instead is more concentrated on investing them in the characters (a task at which the film succeeds). The film’s pacing is odd, and tends to gloss over seemingly important plot points while lingering on moments which seem to have little utility outside of character development.

All in all, “American Hustle” is a good movie. Entertaining, visually stunning, and well acted, it is worth the admission price, if not the RedBox fee in a few months.