American Hustle (★★½)

american_hustle_ver6The stars seemed aligned for David O. Russell‘s highly anticipated American Hustle in which assembles some of Hollywood’s most sought-after talent that includes Oscar-winners Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence along with Oscar-nominees Amy AdamsBradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner.  He teams up with scribe Eric Singer, whose only feature writing credit is Tom Tykwer’s The International, and based on the popularity of last year’s Silver Linings Playbook, this was suppose to be Russell’s masterpiece.  Sad to report that the final product is an anti-metamorphosis of filmmaking that prohibits any consistency for the viewer to relish.  What remains intact and palpable are the outstanding performances by the cast that Russell put together.  All of them are dedicated to their roles, even when development and direction are lacking, and they truck through much of the narrative successfully.

The film tells the story of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a con artist who in the 1970s, along with his cunning and seductive partner Sydney (Amy Adams), gets caught by the FBI and begins to assist them in taking down politicians and the mafia.  Headed by a loose cannon federal agent named Richie (Bradley Cooper), they set their sights on a Jersey Mayor (Jeremy Renner), but not before Irving has to reel in his vulgar and manipulative wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

One of the largest areas of opportunities is the script composed by Singer and Russell.  Despite scene-chewing performances from our principal actors, an absence of insight and cohesiveness, along with an irregularity of interesting dialogue plagues this once promising Oscar hopeful.  In the first twenty minutes of the film’s opening, I said to myself, “this is going to be my favorite film of the year.”  When the film ventures off into back stories and character origins, it plays like a parody of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, lacking any emotional connection.  The film isn’t overtly dreadful or horrendous by any stretch, just mostly disappointing.  All the pieces are there, they just didn’t take the time to make sure they all fit.  It’s confusing in tone, though very funny at times, especially coming from Cooper and Lawrence, but by the end, Russell feels he’s warranted an emotional reaction from the audience when he’s done anything but.

Christian Bale is terrific, magnified in charisma while still keeping mostly all his ticks and mannerisms he’s created for Irving in perspective. His work is also an impressive counterpoint to his other well-executed performance in Out of the Furnace.  Bale proves once again that he’s one of this generation’s most gifted actors.  Not only in the way he packs on the pounds, or rocks a comb-over better than any wannabe gangster I’ve encountered on the streets of Little Italy; he’s the one performer that has a character that goes through an authentic evolution that’s believable.

As the spunky and crude wife of Irving, Jennifer Lawrence gets the biggest laughs and commands the most attention from the viewer.  Better than she was in last year’s overly praised turn in Silver Linings Playbook, for which she won the Oscar for Best Actress, this is a role that suits her well, both for her range as an actress and what she excels in with her fiery demeanor.  I’m still a bit unsure about how old Rosalyn was suppose to be (that may be a fault of these directors thinking she’s old enough to play these older women).  Lawrence owns her role and has enough naughty sex-appeal and delivery to land herself an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.  I’d argue if she hadn’t JUST won last year, she would be a formidable threat to win.  Probably a more appropriate representation for her acting arsenal.

american-hustle-trailer-1092013-155435I have fallen hard for the abilities of Bradley Cooper following his role as Pat in Russell’s Playbook.  Subsequently, the 38-year-old actor has sought dynamic and challenging roles that you can tell he finds exciting and prolific in its nature and candor.  His turn in The Place Beyond the Pines earlier this year proved that notion and in American Hustle, Cooper is simply dazzling.  Delivering the best performance of the cast, Cooper nails moment after moment, infusing his strict and intense line delivery while having impeccable comedic timing.  One sequence in which he imitates the great Louie C.K., who plays one of Richie’s frazzled superiors, engulfed the movie theater in non-stop laughter.

The actor I feel the most for is the talented and beautiful Amy Adams.  If the script was more developed on a writing level, this role could have been the performance of the year.  Adams is given an opportunity to enrich herself in a woman, full of layers, that prevent her from losing sight of her own identity.  However, being short-changed as her character builds, leaves the audience unsatisfied with where she ends.  On a pure performance level, Adams is top-notch, conveying one of her strongest turns yet.  I wished more for her but ultimately was let down.

On an aesthetic level, everything about American Hustle works wonderfully.  A dynamite costume designer in Michael Wilkinson, probably one of the sure-fire Oscar bets, is an awe-inspiring sight.  Hot and silky swimsuits, body suits, and flashy men’s suits are all on display.  Judy Becker, the talented Production Designer, along with Heather Loeffler‘s set decoration plops us right in the times.  Though unadventurous at times, I’m excited to see more from Cinematographer Linus Sandgren, who worked on Promised Land and 6 Souls.  His framing of certain scenes show the DP’s brilliance and hints at a promise if teamed up with someone like Ron Howard or even Sofia Coppola, an American filmmaker unafraid of exploring certain narrative dynamics.

David O. Russell used to be able to excite, in the way that Quentin Tarantino would when ventured off into a new realm of his imagination.  His 2010 film The Fighter was his most ambitious outing and I’ve waited, patiently mind you, to see when he top that endeavor.  I’ll always award his efforts as a writer.  I Heart HuckabeesThree Kings, and Silver Linings Playbook succeed mostly on the merits of his storytelling ability.  American Hustle levels out a lot of the time, enabling the viewer to connect and engage the world convincingly.  There are other times though, where honestly, I almost fell asleep.  Even when Russell demonstrates uneven filmmaking, I’ve remained bound to the story.  This is the first time I found myself bored, especially in scenes involving Jeremy Renner, who I adore.

There will be many I’m sure that feel I’m being too harsh or flat-out disagree.  The audience I saw it with went nuts for it.  Euphoric applause filled the room as the credits rolled, and judging by some of the early accolades, it’s probably a threat for some serious Oscar recognition.  American Hustle is good at times, but not consistent enough for me to notice.  We’ll just have to agree to disagree.

American Hustle opens in theaters December 18.

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