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American Hustle

by Leonard Maltin
December 13, 2013 12:00 AM
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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.

Bradley Cooper-Christian Bale-680
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.


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  • jay | February 17, 2014 8:00 AMReply

    Laughable Movie. I agree with you, David Mortimer. Especially with the aspect of overacting, Christian Bale in particular. Not to say it's overlong and badly directed, although I really liked "The Fighter" and "Silver Linings Playbook". Perhaps one of the worst films ever nominated for the Oscars. Even ten nominations! Unbelievable! Seems to have been a weak year overall.

  • David Mortimer | January 26, 2014 10:54 AMReply

    I went to see this movie with very good affirmations after all the glowing reviews it got in the press , but to say I was disappointed is a understatement , why is this? mainly because it was a mess , it was trying to be Scorsese but just ended up been a parody of what he does, the overacting was laugh out loud at times , the only time I felt greatness in the movie was when a certain Mr De Niro cameoed for 10 minutes , it was like this is how you do it guys , I nearly walked out half way through but I stayed because I've never done that before and i had nothing better to do anyway ,was I glad I stayed ?Well yes because after persisting with it the film did manage to hold my attention until the end by the way the plot eventually started to to unfold after all the individual blown out long scenes had run there course .
    Sorry to say it but none of these actors did it for me and unfortunately they never will.

  • collver | January 10, 2014 2:32 AMReply

    I adore both atmosphere and character immensely. Consequently, I feel the same way about this movie. Once I got the point that I liked the character a third of the way through the movie it took off. It went from merely entertaining to enthralling. I especially loved the pulp fiction/Tarantino influences in cinematography and storytelling. (They used the iconic trunk shot, a possible nod to Tarantino?) In addition, the movie much like Louis C.K's Ice fish story was hard to pin. All in all, I liked the movie a lot.

  • Brian | January 7, 2014 11:11 AMReply

    You are totally off base with your review Leonard, I think the film is the most enjoyable I have seen all year and I really did care for the principal characters that will stay with me like Michael Medved's take on this film.

  • kim | December 26, 2013 1:48 AMReply

    wholly agree with your review, mr. maltin. i literally cared for no one or what happened to them and that made the film drag on for an incredibly long time. performances were great, but it just got a little too complicated for characters i didn't care for. by the end, i didn't care to put the pieces together anymore.

  • Johan | December 17, 2013 7:47 AMReply

    While I'm glad a lot of people seems to like this movie, I found it to be incredibly dull and, like many other movies, just too long.

  • Film Fan | December 15, 2013 7:59 PMReply

    What is the difference between “Some of this stuff actually happened” and "Based on a true story"? You would rather them lie like other films do? I prefer honesty and not trying to present the whole story as facts. I believe The Butler was in a similar situation but they completely made most of the scenes in the movie up

  • David Mortimer | January 26, 2014 11:01 AM

    I did not for one moment believe that this was in any way based on a true story because it was so obviously totally made up in its ridiculousness if it was based on a true story in parts it was on the name abscam , for me the rest was like a big fancy dress party with people overacting for an Oscar and if I want to see a Scorsese movie I'll go to one directed by him not by Mr O . Russell trying to do Scorsese !!

  • Jeffrey | December 15, 2013 11:14 PM

    Here are my thoughts on that. I believe people were willing to give "Lee Daniels' The Butler" a pass on that issue because it was more lovingly made and the subject matter less sordid than this film. To borrow a phrase I've heard before, it was a lie but a beautiful one. That being said, I expect this film to be better.

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