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Movie Review: 'American Hustle' (2013)

There are so many lessons to be gleaned from this smattered together, critically adored, hot mess express. Loosely based on the true events of the 1970’s Abscam scandal, “American Hustle” looks the part of a decadent period piece complete with exquisite costuming, sensational acting talent and the gifts of a director who has been struggling to capture the magic he made in “Three Kings.” 

Director David O. Russell’s follow-up to the personally underwhelming “Silver Linings Playbook” follows in its overrated footsteps by keeping the glorious soundtrack of the 70’s loud and a coherent plot relatively silent.

Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is a man with a comb-over, a manic wife (Jennifer Lawrence) and an adorable adopted son. He and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) fell in love, while inside of a dry cleaning machine as dress-wear swirls around them. They are lovers and small-time con-artists. They have a nifty scam that pockets them a nice enough living.

Then one day all of that comes to an end, when daffy FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) forces them to do his and the bureau’s bidding. That is the lucid version. The film itself is splintered into non-chronological order that shuffles the deck into a timeline oblivion that is difficult to ascertain.

The characters are poorly fleshed out, mostly resembling the dimension of paper dolls. Bale and Adams do their level best to bring structure to their characterizations despite the fact they are working with the flimsiest script of their careers.

Even Bale with his spectacular physical transformation and Adams with her vibrant screen-intensity cannot distract from the awful/non-existent screenplay they are trying to make work. Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner are left to do the same.

Bradley Cooper goes above and beyond in his melodramatic characterization, this time undergoing a “physical transformation” via hair curlers. When compared to Bale it is an especially flat offering. His attempts to convey passion are muddled with the implementation of constant yelling, an approach that only registers as an annoyance.

There are scenes in this movie that make absolutely no sense. Look no further than a scene where Adams’ Sydney goes into a restroom, and begins screaming as she sits on a toilet. It’s a bizarre and unexplained shock-sequence that is ridiculous. This kind of confused narrative remains about the only consistent aspect of this jumbled dalliance.

Why we should be rooting for any of these dastardly people as an idealist politician, Renner’s Mayor Carmine Polito is torn apart by the sting operation is next to impossible to buy into. In the grey moral relativity of the film, his is the only heart that seemed to begin in the right place.

Filmmaking is a marriage. The screenplay, the direction, the cast all have to work in concert to create something memorable. Here there are jagged little pieces strewn together in an attempt to create a mirage that has no foundation.

The self-indulgence and leisure this film allows itself; is so excessive that you almost have to be impressed with its arrogance. The film does embody the subject of hustling. As with any con, this film is a lot of smoke and mirrors with no substance to be found in its aftermath. Rating: 1.5/10