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American Hustle

Leonard Maltin By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin December 13, 2013 at 12:00AM

On the plus side of the ledger, Russell enables his cast to inhabit some colorful, downright transformative, characters. (Photo by Francois Duhamel)
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Jennifer Lawrence-Amy Adams-680
Photo by Francois Duhamel - © Annapurna Prods.LLC

Unlike many of my colleagues, I wasn’t swept away by American Hustle. I appreciate the 1970s period flavor, the propulsive nature of the screenplay by director David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer, and the showcase it provides for a cadre of talented actors. However, about halfway through the movie I came to the realization that I didn’t care about any of these people. Like a concert where each member of the band takes a series of flashy solos, American Hustle is a movie in which the parts are greater than the whole.

Even the snarky opening legend, “Some of this stuff actually happened,” makes it difficult to invest in the duplicitous goings-on. We know the film was inspired by the ABSCAM sting operation, but how much of what we’re seeing is true and how much was invented? Normally, this wouldn’t matter a great deal, but that mixed message put me on my guard.

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Photo by Francois Duhamel - © Annapurna Prods. LLC

On the plus side of the ledger, Russell enables his cast to inhabit some colorful, downright transformative, characters. Each one wants to be something they’re not, and that must be liberating for the performers. Christian Bale would like to be a more successful con artist, Amy Adams wants to shed her humdrum existence by pretending to be coolly British, Bradley Cooper dreams of becoming a star at the FBI by bringing down some big game, and Jennifer Lawrence craves the love and attention that her husband isn’t prepared to give her. They’re all operating at the very top of their game and that’s great fun to watch. I also loved Louis C.K. as Cooper’s frustrated FBI boss. The only one I didn’t care for was Jeremy Renner; he’s a good actor, but I just didn’t buy him as a guy from Jersey named Carmine. You can see the real thing on reality television, and he isn’t it.

American Hustle is overlong, but it’s never dull. It has many great moments, including a reference to Duke Ellington that brought a big smile to my face. But in spite of its many assets, the picture gave me no one to root for, so at the end, I felt nothing.

 

This article is related to: Film Reviews, David O. Russell, Eric Warren Singer, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., American Hustle