Mar 17, 2014

[Movies] American Hustle (2013)

When I first saw the trailers for American Hustle, I admit that I was pretty excited about the movie. The premise seemed pretty interesting and the potential pacing of the story drew me in. It featured a number of notable Hollywood personalities, including the likes of Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, both of whom have had some rather interesting movies as of late. And the whole thing was packaged as a period comedy? Yeah, I was totally in.

It only helped that the movie managed to get a lot of buzz in the awards circuit, primarily for its acting talent. And that only further motivated me to get around to watching this movie. Plus the whole thing was set the late 1970's to the early1980's? That time period is a gold mine for creating a crazy, campy story!

But when we finally watched it, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. The movie didn't quite live up to my expectations, and I'm still trying to dissect precisely why that was so. It had a lot of the elements to make a movie that I'd certainly enjoy, but the final outcome just wasn't all that funny - but at least it wasn't unwatchable, right?

Synopsis: American Hustle is a 2013 comedy drama movie directed by David O. Russell with a screenplay by Eric Warren Singer. The story was loosely based on the FBI ABSCAM operation that ran between the 70's and the 80's to entrap corrupt politicians.

It's 1978 and we are introduced to con artists Irving (Christian Bale) and Sydney (Amy Adams) who have a relationship that is both personal and professional in nature. Irving was doing well enough on his own, but the addition of Sydney and her whole Lady Edith Greensly act have really enhanced his cons. And thus the two got worked on various jobs together - at least until the FBI finally caught them engaged in a loan scam.

FBI Agent Richard DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) offers them a deal - in exchange for their freedom they need to help in a sting operation primarily designed to snag mob boss Victor Tellegio. And while Sydney was pretty much against the arrangement, Irving barreled through and took the deal. But as the scheme progresses, it seems that they end up dragging in more and more targets including members of Congress. And DiMaso appears to be developing feelings for Sydney, and she's savvy enough to draw him in further to help their cause.

I was really expecting more from the time-place setting given how colorful the transition was from the 70's to the 80's. But apart from Bradley Cooper's character having curlers in his hair to force an afro of some sort, things seemed a little understated to the point of being lackluster. I was expecting more in terms of this aspect since it was being positioned more as a comedy than a drama. That certainly would have allowed it to push the glam factor a bit more without the need to go all the way to outright camp.

Amy Adams was quite the darling in this movie and I loved her take on the "British" con artist. It reminded me a bit of the character Sophie Devereaux from Leverage, but certainly a lo more controlled. And Amy's accent was enough to be believed but not quite enough to prevent you from thinking something was a little off. It's sort of like how I can speak English pretty well from an American perspective, but not enough for US friends to determine where I might have come from in terms of my accent. And that was precisely what was called for in this role.

And of course we have to cite yet another amazing physical transformation that Christian Bale went through for this role. He's a rather versatile actor and I admit that I totally didn't recognize him the first time he appeared on-screen. And that's just one of the many examples of great actors in this movie. Each had their spotlight moments as individuals but something sort of fell short when you take them as an ensemble. And given the way the story was handled and the many different plot threads laid out throughout the movie, there's a lot to cope with.

I appreciate the fact that the movie comes with the warning that "Some of this actually happened" - a refreshingly honest spin on the claim that the movie was based on real-life events. But given that they were already taking creative liberties with the history piece in favor of their own characters and their stories, you'd think that the narrative would make more sense. Instead if felt like the whole ABSCAM piece of the equation weight really heavily and there was little to be done to balance it out with the more intellectual sort of comedy that the writer was aiming for. And I didn't find myself laughing.

American Hustle is a good movie - no denying that. But it didn't come across as great as everyone seems to be claiming it is - at least not for me. I enjoyed it, but felt a little tired just keeping pace with everything they wanted to present to the audience like some elaborate shell game. Still, the movie still merits 3.5 increased demands complicating the operation out of a possible 5.

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  1. Lanchie abanco17 March, 2014 21:56

    scoring and cinematography.
    but for some reason it just falls flat for me.

  2. Yeah, I got that vibe too.For a movie set in such a vibrant period, it wasn't very lively.