There’s definitely a pulse to American Hustle but a heartbeat might be another matter. Epically cool and boiling over with director David O. Russell’s trademark manic energy, the follow-up to Silver Linings Playbook lacks an organic pull to any of its characters, leaving one of the year’s most anticipated films a little wanting.
That reads worse than it is, really, because American Hustle is a total blast from jump. The problem is the unavoidable artificiality of it all.
The film opens with Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) delicately executing one of the great 1970’s comb-overs. The scene lasts a couple minutes, the first float in a parade of exaggerated hair and clothing from that era. But whether it’s the comb-over or the FBI agent in the home perm (Bradley Cooper), the affectations are just…off. They make it impossible to separate actor from character. “Oh, look at what they did to poor Jeremy Renner,” you’ll say. And say again.
It’s disconcerting only because the actors can disappear in roles — particularly Bale and Amy Adams — but these are more like well-crafted caricatures. The effect is almost like watching them recreate the disco era in a Saturday Night Live sketch.
But still: A hell of a lot of fun.
It’s a loose fictionalization of Abscam, the FBI sting that took down several congressmen on corruption and bribery charges. Rosenfeld is a small-time con man who, to avoid being pinched for his crimes, works with the feds to root out crooked politicians, including a local and beloved mayor (Renner).
As you might expect, everyone in this thing is memorable. Sometimes, though, it’s not the performance but the circumstance that sticks with you. (“Hey, that’s Louis C.K. What’s he doing in this?”) But because Russell is such an electric filmmaker, it can’t derail American Hustle. This is still a great movie, just one with a little too much curtain pulled back.
AMERICAN HUSTLE, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams. Directed by David O. Russell. Rated R, 138 mins.