THE Academy Award nominees continue their slow releases on to DVD and download, and the results aren’t always satisfying. This week, American Hustle is ready for your judgment. Mine? Not so positive.
David O. Russell’s fictionalisation of a 1970s political sting joined a not-so-desirable club earlier this year: the club of films that have earned 10 or more Oscar nominations but have failed to win one. It is an interesting group, although there is something to the selection: The Color Purple, Joel and Ethan Coen’s version of True Grit, and Gangs of New York. Essentially, they’re just OK films, and True Grit barely sticks in the memory against so many more intriguing pieces by the Coens.
American Hustle may not remain in the memory either. Rather, I’d contend this is the type of film Hollywood should make with little effort, as it did in the 70s: the entertaining adult drama.
Yet the studio preference for sequels and blockbusters means what should be Hollywood’s bread and butter, a film such as American Hustle or the previous year’s best picture Oscar winner, Argo, is celebrated as something rather revelatory. They’re accomplished films, sure, and Argo is a tighter film than American Hustle — and the coming Wolf of Wall Street for that matter.
But these films seem just a little too happy with themselves. American Hustle, like Wolf of Wall Street, has the period, it has the bang-on soundtrack, it has energy, it has the actors and they have fun. Its surface is alluring. But there’s something disposable about it. The performances may be diverting, or just plain excellent in the case of Amy Adams, but their characters are, by and large, not worthy of a viewer’s love, let alone empathy.
Russell enlists a steady line of supporting performers, each trying to top the next with their 70s-ness. Among Jeremy Renner, Jack Huston, a poorly lit Robert De Niro, Alessandro Nivola and Louis CK. Surprisingly the latter, a comedian, comes off best, although this is due to his character, the naysayer within the FBI, not being a willing participant to this malarky.
And what of the story? What was the Abscam saga all about exactly? It hardly matters. Some politicians are stung by a con man used by an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper’s Richie DiMaso) who is desperate for a careermaking sting. Yet the revelation of the sting is almost a throwaway line at the end.
Yes, American Hustle (M, Roadshow, 129min, $39.95) is, like so many of its contemporaries, too long. It’s no The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, though.
But does Russell engage with anything serious? No, American Hustle’s eyes are diverted by its own fabulousness. Which is not to say the film should have been a parable about the greed of man. But it says something about Hollywood when you’re likelier to see a dark parable in a Dark Knight movie than in a drama starring De Niro.