Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louie CK, Michael Pena, Alessandro Nivola, Elisabeth Rohm, Shea Wigham, Jack Huston, Robert DeNiro
Directed By: David O. Russell
I actually saw this film a week ago. I’ve been sitting on this review, trying to figure out what to say. Or how to grade it. I almost feel like I need to see the film again, because I don’t quite know how to explain my thoughts on it yet. Basically, I thought it was a good film. I didn’t think it was a great film, yet I can’t really pinpoint problems with the movie. It’s just that feeling that you get when you’re separating your “favorite” films from your list of “good” films. There’s a piece missing in this puzzle, and it is really just an indescribable piece.
I think part of the problem is that when you assemble such a fantastic team, you automatically raise the bar for yourself. While I appreciate David O. Russell’s obvious homage to Martin Scorsese films, it is not my favorite David O. Russell film. He set the bar so high with Silver Linings Playbook (my favorite film of 2012) and The Fighter (one of my favorites from 2011) that American Hustle just didn’t get there for me. I can’t help but think that Christian Bale has had more career-defining performances, or that Bradley Cooper was better last year in Silver Linings. The comparisons are there, they are immediate, but yet I can’t pick a specific problem with the film.
The other problem is that I feel that this has been a really good year for film. Even films produced for a wide audience, including some sequels, have been fantastic. American Hustle gets lost for me a bit when I’m looking at my “top 10”, because I think there are better films that will contribute in the long run to the overall “history” of film. American Hustle, for me, is more like a Seabiscuit. It’s a really good film that deserves the praise it gets, but at the end of the day it wasn’t the years best, and 10 years from now, people won’t really be talking about it. But if it ever gets brought up in conversation, for whatever reason, it will be remembered for being good.
Probably the best work to come out of Hustle are the performances by Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence. For both of them, it’s a bit of a departure from the work they are used to giving. Lawrence is much more mature here. She expands upon the maturity that O. Russell gave her in Silver Linings and projects it even more as the housewife to Christan Bale’s character. She’s the life of the party, she’s loud, and she’s aware of her own sexual prowess over men. For a girl who is still being cast as a teenager in The Hunger Games (Katniss is 17 in Catching Fire), it’s an interesting parallel to see her play an adult role. Also, Amy Adams usually plays wallflower type roles, or girls who are learning to come into themselves. Here, she’s sexually aggressive and dominating Bale in their scenes together. If anything, this film should be remembered for casting Adams against type. This is a role typically given to an Angelina Jolie type, but instead was given to Adams. Of all the performances in the film, I thought hers was the most “award” worthy.
And because I haven’t talked about him, I will say it was nice to see Jeremy Renner in a more laid back, good guy role. So often Hollywood casts him as a bad guy, or as a tough guy. He’s neither here, and his performance is endearing. It’s not a particularly showy role, but it’s a nice one for the Renner canon. O. Russell’s direction also makes smart choices, which is why I called it a nice homage to Scorsese films. It feels like a new take on the Goodfellas tale. A man thinks he can make all the right choices to secure his future, but he ends up in over his head, and he struggles to try and find the exit. Surprisingly, in a non-Scorsese approach, there is very little blood shed in this film. Like, I think there was one person who died on screen the entire film. As a matter of fact, I can think of very little reason this movie should be R, except for some profanity and some sexual content, I suppose. If I had teenagers, I wouldn’t have a problem with them watching this film.
I’ve been dreading this review, because I wish I could describe the “minus”. There’s something missing here, and even though I can’t pinpoint it, I just don’t feel like it is on the level with some of the other great films of the year that I’ve awarded A’s to, like Blue Jasmine, Gravity, 12 Years A Slave, Prisoners, or Dallas Buyers Club. I would still definitely recommend this film, even if it isn’t in my Top 10 for the year.
FINAL GRADE: A-