A new Christmas tradition is in the works: me watching a crappy David O. Russell film. It is a tradition that I sincerely hope does not become too firmly established. Now I am being a little too harsh — American Hustle is not exactly crappy, it’s just not good. About half-way through, I thought to myself — “hey, I think this is that new film by the Silver Linings Playbook director.”
I thought this not because it is bad, but because of the manner in which it is bad. I forget what scene it was that triggered my association to last year’s picture, but, despite the very different subject matter, these two films have a similar feel — that feel of a story not coming together. It’s as if Russell read a manual on how to put together a movie, and said, OK, let’s add this piece to this piece, and throw in some 70’s fashion and music, let good actors do their job and we’ll have a good movie.
With a Tomatoemeter score of 94%, it has succeeded where it wanted to. To me, it felt like four great films — Scorsese’s Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino, and P.T. Anderson’s fabulous Boogie Nights, blended together and spit out the other end, resulting in a film just under half the quality of any of one of those. After stumbling out of the starting block, American Hustle finally got to a point where I was enjoying a couple scenes, but faltered again down the stretch. I walked out thinking what a non-story, really, what a non-movie that was.
As to the critical acclaim? Critics think the acting was stellar here. Christian Bale gained a lot of weight for the role, even the more impressive remembering his weight loss for The Machinist. But something about his character, and to some extent, those of Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams, somehow didn’t ring true to me. Hard to put my finger on it, but perhaps it was the context of the poorly executed film. The performances seemed as arbitrary as the plot elements.
Also arbitrary: otherwise fitting 70’s-era popular music. These are all great tracks, but except for the disco scene (Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”), the songs seemed completely disconnected from anything happening in the picture. They were thrown in in the same dishonest way that Silver Linings was marketed with a song that did not appear in the movie.
That brings me to the other reason critics liked this film — they were taken by the vintage fashion, music, culture, and historical context of Abscam. To me it’s a big snow job. American Hustle is a simpleton’s movie. It’s a good movie for people who are blinded by the facade.
You might think that I really hated this movie, but there were moments that became more and more enjoyable as the movie finally began hitting its stride. I would have liked to see more Louis C.K., who was great here. But in the end this was a deeply dissatisfying film. Those critics applauding the film? The only thing they or anyone else is going to remember about this movie five years from now is, oh yeah, that movie where Christian Bale was fat and bald. 4/10