Release date: Out Now
Something that is becoming increasingly more prevalent in Hollywood is its saturation of original storytelling. With inspiration and inventiveness slowly drying up, there is now the need to develop screenplays through other methods. This means that it is not uncommon to have a line or two at the beginning of a release stating something along the lines of the film being “factual”, “based on real events” or “a true story”. What is shown before American Hustle though is a very simple but ambiguous, “Some of this actually happened”.
The reason for this equivocation is because the film was initially penned by Eric Warren Singer, being based on a true story and for a couple of years was stuck on the American Screenplay Black List. The director David O. Russell then signed on to helm the film, re-writing aspects of Singer’s screenplay and elaborating some of the characters to give them more of an identity and be more adaptable to the story. He also allowed the cast to improvise a lot on set, allowing them to further distance themselves from the source material.
Russell has had a lot of experience in the last few years in making Oscar-baiting movies such as 2010’s The Fighter and 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook. Here he is again, back on similar award-grabbing ground and is able to round up most of the collaborators from both previous films to feature. Given that Jennifer Lawrence and Christian Bale have both won Oscars for roles in his films before, it can’t have been hard to persuade them to join the ranks again.
The story this time concerns con-man Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and his partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) as they are caught mid-scam by FBI agent Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper). He offers to release them in return for their assistance in catching some larger criminals. However as Di Maso gradually works his way up the chain trying to catch the big fishes, Mayor Polito (Jeremy Renner) and Mafia overlord Victor Tellegio (Robert De Niro), they inevitably get in well over their heads. Subsequently they are forced to create various plans to escape their predicament, with double-crossings aplenty. Lawrence also joins the crew as Rosenfeld’s wife, Rosalyn.
The leads are all excellent and Sunday nights Golden Globe announcement of the film winning Best Picture and Adams and Lawrence winning Best Actress and Supporting respectively, illustrates this. The 70’s outfits and hairdos are also suitably quaffed with the make-up and costume departments allowed to have a field day. Cooper’s and Bale’s hair especially are remarked upon throughout the film and Adams must have gone through rolls of tit tape to stay in all of her dresses. They are backed up by an equally brilliant support from a fairly diverse cast including Louis C.K, Michael Pena, Shea Whigham and Alessandro Nivola.
Despite all of this and the superb, witty script; the film is too long. If it was shortened by about 20-30 minutes, then it would be much less drawn out and perhaps more enjoyable. Obviously it is not designed to really be a caper, heist or average con-movie, which are normally quite snappy. However, there are so many double-dealings, betrayals and reveals that viewers sort of end up getting lost and never truly believing a character when they are in any form of trouble. This also makes it difficult to trust anyone and with empathy in short supply, it is strenuous to find someone to side with that isn’t fundamentally a bad person.
That being said, this is a comedy-drama and with the first part of that genre title, the film excels. There are some hilarious moments and when the cast are all on-screen at the same time, there is great chemistry. With each character developing a relationship with another throughout, it makes for some humorous exchanges between the players. There’s Bale and Cooper fighting over Amy Adams, Bale and Lawrence’s domestic altercations and Cooper and Louis C.K’s arguing over the escalating grandeur of the police investigation.
Where the film exceeds in this comedic element, ultimately it is a tad disappointing overall. Similarly to his previous film, Silver Lining’s Playbook, the array of talent on offer means that it doesn’t quite live up to expectations. Still, it is some of Russell’s best work and although it will surely win multiple other awards, it does trigger feelings of nostalgia towards the days of when he was a more diverse director, creating the likes of Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees without the knowing nods to the academy. However, with his repertoire and A-List associates ever expanding, it’s hard to see Russell changing his ways given the zenith that he has apparently reached.