'American Hustle' (2013) Movie Review

American Hustle movie review
Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale in American Hustle
Photo: Columbia Pictures

I love the '70s coiffures and clothes matched with some great performances, but the movie... that's a different story. David O. Russell's American Hustle has issues with tone, repetition and ultimately a lack of reason for why I was even watching. I was never flat out bored because something would ultimately come along to reinvigorate a movie that feels like it's on constant life support, but when a movie is only as good as its next scene it's tough to get any overall enjoyment out of it, especially once you get to the end and the whole thing has led to nothing more than a ho-hum magic trick.

American Hustle
Grade: C+

American Hustle"American Hustle" is a Columbia Pictures release, directed by David O. Russell and is rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence. The running time is .

The cast includes Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Amy Adams, Louis C.K., Alessandro Nivola, Elisabeth Röhm, Michael Peña, Jack Huston, Robert De Niro and Adrian Martinez.

Very loosely based on the late '70s FBI sting operation codenamed Abscam, that saw several political figures convicted of accepting bribes, American Hustle centers on con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his partner, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), who are forced to save themselves from conviction by helping the headstrong and clueless FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) in an operation initially targeting New Jersey mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). As things develop, DiMaso wants to continually go bigger and bigger, despite Irving's advice, as relationships begin to unfurl and tension mounts. Or is it really tension at all?

I had such a hard time grasping the tonal aspects of the film. Clearly much of it was meant to be funny (and it is), but how much is intended to be serious? Some scenes would introduce a tonal conflict as I couldn't tell if what I was watching was dramatic or comedic, and it certainly didn't feel it was both. Nothing felt real and therefore the emotional involvement is limited at best, but this doesn't have to be a bad thing per se. Perhaps the film is merely a piece of entertainment, meant to titillate and delight. It accomplishes this at times. There is plenty of laughter, but it comes in fits and starts and oftentimes feels like I'm laughing at the same thing over and over again.

Jennifer Lawrence is great as Irving's neglected and off-kilter wife, Rosalyn, as she nearly burns down the house with their new "science oven" (aka a microwave) and is obsessed with a particular brand of nail polish she describes as smelling both "sweet and sour" and like "flowers and garbage". Even though her relationship with Irving never feels real, she's a strange little lady and I would have loved to have seen more of her, but at the same time I understand why she had to be kept to a minimum.

Bale is also great, delivering the best performance in the film, packing on pounds to play Irving as an overweight, schlubby looking guy with a dreadful combover. He knows the angles and Bale gives his character a believability others may not have been able to achieve. Opposite him, Adams bounces between an American and English accent with relative ease and adds a layer of depth to Sydney I felt was ultimately lost by the film's end. Then there's Cooper as DiMaso, a wild card character with his tightly permed curls, overcompensating swagger and reckless behavior. What does this all add up to? Not a whole heck of a lot.

Who are these people? Yes, two of them are con artists, another is a crazy FBI agent and Rosalyn will probably end up addicted to pain medication by the time she's 40 if not sooner. But that's "what" they are, not who they are and there is a difference. Beyond that, if I look at the film purely as a piece of entertainment in an effort to get in on the con, even that disappoints on a rather large level and after more than two hours I expect a lot more.

For a film that seems intent on keeping the mood upbeat and fast-paced, with kooky characters that are meant to be more fun than dramatically serious, why did American Hustle seem so one note and monotonous?

On top of the performances already mentioned, I enjoyed every moment with Louis C.K. as Cooper's superior and a scene featuring a brief cameo appearance by Robert De Niro is one of the best the film has to offer. Otherwise it's a film that seems to have too many balls in the air as it gets confused between being a serious drama and a goofy con operation. It wants to have its cake and eat it too, but it ends up a slop of tasty ingredients that never come together to make a tasty dish.

The production values are also great and cinematographer Linus Sandgren (Promised Land) has a free-flowing camera that seems to have a mind of its own, wandering from the characters hands and feet and back to the main source of the action, making for an interesting attempt to keep things energetic. The editing, however, is a bit all over the place and even while the film runs close to two-and-a-half hours it seems things are missing, particularly character building moments for Cooper and resolutions for others such as Adams whose character's insecurities seemed to go from being a major plot point to entirely forgotten.

Maybe the dysfunction came when Russell took Eric Singer's original script and turned what were once intended to be real life characters into caricatures. Perhaps it needed another polish to better define the characters and the tone of each scene, and if you're going to begin in medias res please let it mean something. Here it's just a narrative trick to try and jump start the film rather than give us anything to chew on, you can look to this year's Rush and All is Lost for much better examples as to how to pull this off.

As much as I would like to say I enjoyed American Hustle, because I laughed a lot and there are moments of honest tension and drama thanks to the likes of Bale and don't let me forget Jeremy Renner, but in the end it never comes together and I can't say I feel much, if any, need to see it again.


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  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/EPayneDDS/ EPayneDDS

    Wow! I really didn't see that coming. Still looking forward to seeing it though. Brad, I've always thought this film seemed rushed (into production/post-production), do you feel this is one of the big problems with how it turned out?

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet


    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/navaneethks/ navaneethks

      Hollywood has been rushing out a lot of productions lately. We will know next year or the year after if this is a real problem that needs to be tackled.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/navaneethks/ navaneethks

    This movie never interested me. And once I watched the trailers earlier this year, that confirmed it as the trailers were very unappealing. I might still watch it to see what all the hype is about, but I have no expectations.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/RonOnealFresh/ Ron Oneal Fresh

    Still looking forward to this, I might just put seeing Wolf of Wall Street on Christmas first over this.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Torryz/ Torryz

    Brad, are you saying the even though the acting is good, maybe it was casted wrong? How old is Lawrence's character supposed to be? She looks so young in the photos stills like she's playing dress up.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/navaneethks/ navaneethks

      From the trailers it felt like Lawrence just doesn't fit the role. Whatever it is.

      • http://www.silverscreenriot.com SmartFilm

        Nah, Lawrence isn't the problem. She's great.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/navaneethks/ navaneethks

          I'm not saying she is the problem. She is a very good actress. But the type of role she plays doesn't seem to suit her from what I see in the trailers. Of course I could be completely wrong and she might be the perfect fit. But right now I don't see it.

          • http://www.silverscreenriot.com SmartFilm

            I understood what you were saying, just for me, she was perfect in the film.

            • geri031706

              I agree. She steals every scene she's in.

      • Smith

        I know what you mean!!! I feel the EXACT same way. Just doesn't fit the role at all. She's gorgeous, but actress wise, she's ok. IMO

        • Ariel Morgan

          Didn't fit the role at all.
          Looks 30 years younger than her "husband". Feels and looks like a teen having a meltdown in her "acting" scenes.
          Sings a song randomly and way over done.
          This movie was actor-porn. There was no substance, just acting. I felt like I was watching some people talking about nothing and lying to each other. Nothing in that fim feels legitimate from start to finish.
          On top of all that, it's boring as all hell.

          FYI - Yelling/Crying like a teen, IS NOT ACTING.
          Jlaw is nothing special in this movie (all 15 mins she shows up in). She steals scenes because she is LOUDER than everyone else available.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/maja/ maja

    Very disappointing. Will still check it out with lowered expectations.

  • gabs03

    You sort of contradict yourself by praising the characters and their personalities only to later on describe them as caricatures that make the movie less than it could have been had O'Russell stuck with the old script or polished them more. I'm not sure how I can take a review like that seriously if you can't make up your mind on what seems to be the main emphasis of the movie.

    From the reviews I have read so far American Hustle seems to be a hugely entertaining and colorful movie with personality but with no real backbone and that doesn't truly go anywhere in the end. The characters, the music, the costumes and hair have all been highly praised but it seems like most agree that the plot wasn't satisfying enough or didn't reach the best conclusion that it had the potential to.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      I'm not describing them as caricatures, they are caricatures and if I can't make up my mind on what the emphasis of the movie is, is not necessarily my fault, but the movie's.

      • gabs03

        Maybe I phrased that wrong. I understand that you didn't get the point of the movie ( something that doesn't really have to be defined for a movie to be good in reality) but what I don't get is that you just can't seem to make up your mind on the characters ( who to me seem to be David's main focus) and whether or not you liked the direction they were taken in. I mean it's somewhat contradictory to praise the actors for playing colorful and distinctive characters to perfection and than somewhat suggest later on that the caricature feel that they had was one of the weak spots of the movie.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

          Yes, the characters are definitely a main focus, but what good is it to say "Hey, look at these crazy characters" if that's all it is. At that point all you've done is create a series of Saturday Night Live skits, which goes to my point of the film being "only as good as its next scene".

          I assume you had a chance to see it, do you disagree?

          • gabs03

            lol hey! first of all there is nothing wrong with skits, but I do get your point. However I don't necessarily think that a good plot is always what makes a good movie. Rare are the movies that are satisfying in every aspect. And if a movie can entertain me enough that I choose to overlook the flaws in it's plot than that's really good enough for me. Of course I'm not suggesting that Hustle necessarily does that since I clearly haven't seen it yet, nor am I suggesting that it can make a movie worthy enough of the highest praises. But my point is that I also think that a good movie can be just as well defined by it's great characters, cinematography, etc…than just it's story. One might lack something that something else makes up for.

            • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/jinjuriki187/ jinjuriki187

              i don't think brad is saying that the story is always the most important aspect of a movie or that the story can make or break a movie, he gave films like gravity and fast 6 good reviews and they by no means have great stories, but with this particular film it does. no matter how good the characters and the performances are, the lack of a well done and well focused story takes away from the film. he does state that he got some enjoyment out of the film but its story and structural flaws are to big that it stops the film from being truly great. also just about everything you said in your second paragraph of your first comment he also says in his review, except for the film being wildly entertaining. he isn't stating here that the film is bad, a C+ is not a "bad" score, he's saying that its a film that he didn't get much enjoyment out of and it has a lot of flaws particularly with its story and tone. also let us remember that this is his opinion just like in any other review for this film it is that critics opinion. as you have not seen the film yet i don't think its fair to criticize his review, you might end up feeling differently than him about the film or maybe even feel the same but you won't know until you watch it, which is why I'm holding judgement until i see it. i don't agree with every review brad has given, he gave life of pi a C and its personally one of my favorite films of all time but i still greatly respect his opinion, i think this was a good review and i can't wait to see the film myself

              • gabs03

                Relax. I went beyond American Hustle there. Was just making a point about something that I generally think. The only thing that I criticized him for here is the fact that he actually did contradict himself by saying that he enjoyed the characters but that their caricature feel was a weak link of the movie. So which is it? did he enjoy the characters or did he think them too much?

                Otherwise the rest of my comments were random babbling because something he said gave me the want to talk about this particular opinion I have about movies in general. In fact I even said that I'm not suggesting that American Hustle is one of those movies that I'm talking about since I haven't seen it yet.

    • carrie

      It's weird because i read Singer's script last year and it was very strong very plot driven but we know DOR rewrote the script and did many improvisations during the filming

      • gabs03

        Well we all know that David tends to be more character driven than anything else so it's not that much of a surprise. But still I want to watch it because his characters usually tend to be very satisfying regardless of the flaws in his movies.

  • Ezra Brain

    Brad, do you think that this might be a movie that takes some time to grow on you? I, obviously, haven't seen it but David O Russell often has characters that feel like caricatures on first glance but the more you look at them they become real people. Not saying that this is like that, but do you think that you might like it more the next time you watch it?

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      They don't feel like caricatures, they are caricatures. And no, I don't think it will grow on me. Of course, anything is possible.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Winchester/ Winchester

    I don't know if I find this review entirely surprising but maybe that's just because my own expectations from the trailers and ads were never sky high to begin with.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Winchester/ Winchester

      Sorry, for some reason I thought one of these hadn't taken. If TPTB's feel like it go on and delete the duplicate. My mistake.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Winchester/ Winchester

    I'm not sure I'm totally surprised by this review strictly speaking, but then I never had the expectations of it that I know other people did based on it's marketing and trailers. I'll probably give it a look sometime though.

  • http://theoscarsproject.blogspot.com Heather Martin

    I never did think this would be as good as everyone seems to think it would be. The trailer never gave me a great sense of characters or even what the movie was about. If it ends up being up for Best Picture I'll check out it, but otherwise I may just pass.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Fox/ Fox

    I kind of expected that this one wouldn't go over as well as his last two, but quite honestly the mixed reactions haven't tempered my expectations at all. I'm an unabashed Russell supporter, and even in this mostly negative review I see a lot to like. Can't wait until I can check this one out.

  • carrie

    If you read some Bale's interviews,you'll see that he was afraid that DOR was not enough focused on the plot and the tone of the movie during the filming

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

    Your comment about the movie being on life support reminded me of Seven Psychopaths, which similarly was a disappointment after In Bruges.

  • Zack Sparrow

    Surprised by the C+, but I haven't seen it yet. What do you think the Oscar chances for it are now?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Adu/ Adu

    I guess my fears have been realized somewhat. I had a feeling the law of averages would catch up with a David O' Russel film; he had a good run with the last two, and hey this is no disaster either. The tone seemed a concern for me from the trailers. But I'm still optimistic it will be a relatively entertaining watch once I get to see it.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ryguy815/ Ryguy815

    This is extremely disappointing but I still can't wait to see the movie.

  • TheOneWhoKnocks

    Interesting. The movie's doing well on RT, so I'm still optimistic, but I was almost certain that Brad would give the movie at least an "A-".

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/lalecture/ lalecture

      I wonder how the Academy lines up with RT?
      I also wonder if Brad's C+ is somewhat lower because the expectations were so high. With that in mind, maybe the film might be bumped up a bit. Just maybe...

  • http://letterboxd.com/ragingtaxidrver/ RagingTaxiDriver


  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/navaneethks/ navaneethks

    The Wolf of Wall Street might be the film we've all been waiting for.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Adu/ Adu

      Or it could just be The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug :)

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/JNFilms/ JN Films


  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/lalecture/ lalecture

    I've only skimmed your review brad for the sake of saving my own first impressions.
    But I am fiercely disappointed at the end product of American Hustle.
    I'm sure I'll enjoy it. I was just really hoping it would be fantastic. I love David O Russell's films. :(

  • http://www.imdb.com/list/aqXTFXDPhQY/ Exxdee13

    My most anticipated film of 2013 seems like a disappointment, but I'll wait and see it myself. Wolf of Wall Street and Her are the ones I'm looking most forward to now, sadly. From your review that I skimmed through Brad, it seems like the film is similar to The Bling Ring - it looks visually appealing but too much repetition and not enough substance.

    • gabs03

      The bling ring was horrible…I hope to god it's not the case here.
      Keep in mind though that most reviews so far have been rather positive. In fact so far Brad's is the only one I've seen that comes to the conclusion that it is a complete let down.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

        Agreed on Bling Ring. I was looking forward to that and Spring Breakers in a similar way. I ended up really liking Spring Breakers and hating Bling Ring.

      • m1

        I thought The Bling Ring was okay but still a missed opportunity. I liked it slightly more than Spring Breakers, but hopefully American Hustle will be better than both.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AlanSmithee/ Alan Smithee

    Given that Brad's review seems to highlight the clothes and hair as two of this films best attributes, it seemingly confirms my worst fears which were already dampening my enthusiasm for this film, which is primarily that I just feel like the whole over-the-top campy 70's clothes and hairstyles schtick has just become so played out (and has been since the mid-late 90's) that it feels like almost any more when I see a trailer for something set in that era and with that as the seemingly overwhelming aesthetic, I just feel like it's something I've seen so many times before that even a compelling cast, director and story make it hard for me to muster expectations for anything other than a stale film that probably didn't need to be made...

  • Clayton Davis

    We're on the same page. I gave it 2 and a half stars

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Hudsucker/ Hudsucker

    Woah! Shocka!

  • Justin Golding

    I know that this film was the one you were most looking forward to and the fact that you gave it a fair and honest review that didn't sugarcoat anything is the reason you are one of my favorite reviewers.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/topyxyz/ topyxyz

    That leaves us with The Wolf of Wall Street.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/JNFilms/ JN Films

      and Walter Mitty. Don't leave Walter Mitty out.

  • Joyce Tyler

    "...issues with tone, repetition and ultimately a lack of reason for why I was even watching." I've had that reaction to all of D.O. Russell's films.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/RyanJayden/ Ryan Jayden

    Maybe my now lowered expectations will allow me to enjoy it more when I see it. I'm still extremely excited about this film.

  • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3769949/ thatpj

    This is getting stellar early reviews. 100% on RT and 86 on MC. Wonder what oscar pundits are missing here....

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Chris/ Chris

    As a huge fan of O Russell I was so disappointed. I'd give it a C or C-. This movie has little to no story. It's just a bunch of one-note characters doing random things that actually sometimes don't even fit their one-note personalities. This was my most anticipated of the Oscars, but now I don't think it deserves any. Not really even any noms.

  • Stevart

    Great comedy is ALWAYS rooted in drama. Considering that the The Merchant of Venice, Uncle Vanya (which makes me weep like there's...) and Moliere's masterpieces are all considered comedies. The problem is that thanks in no small or LARGE part to Woody Allen whose comedies stem from his ethnic self-loathing, the emphasis has shifted away from the text and towards personal idiosyncrasy, like the nervous tick(s) of the Seinfeld characters or the snarky, vapid "comedies" of Tina Fey. ...Thank you....

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/kathrynlynn/ kathrynlynn

    Christian Bale, I feel like I keep searching for a reason not to like him, as if I give him too much credit... but seriously, the guy transforms with every film. This performance is so different than Out of the Furnace, which I just saw a couple of weeks ago, and yet you get lost in him. He's wonderful in this. He bring a realism to an otherwise sort of dramatically campy film.

    The only performance I didn't really enjoy was cooper's. And I like him in general. And I don't know how much of it was him or the character in general that I just didn't care for- I feel like I understand what they were going for but it didn't work for me, it almost felt like he was in a different film.

    At the end of the day... I was a little bored. And that was redeemed by some scenes, I don't regret watching it, but the ending just didn't fall into place for me. This will probably be one of my more disappointing films of the year.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Beautifulm/ Beautifulm

    I'd have to agree this movie was dull and felt like a chore to sit through. I wasn't emotionally invested in the characters and the storyline went kind of nowhere for me.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/navaneethks/ navaneethks

    Just watched American Hustle a few hours ago and I completely agree with you here Brad. It misses it's aim. While it did have funny moments, sometimes it felt I was laughing at the film instead of with the film, especially when i could not tell apart if a particular scene was supposed to be a serious one or a comedic one.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/kclaw31/ kclaw31

    Brad, I think this movie has a lot to say and I'm hoping you will revisit the film and give it another shot. First I agree, the clothes, cinematography and acting are all great. I want to point to Christian Bale as the stand out of course (he's as good as anyone these days, right?), but all of the cast are so great in this movie. Secondly, I do want to say there is a point to this movie. It's another everyman movie and most people should be able to relate. It's about how we "con" or lie to ourselves to convince ourselves that we're happy or satisfied when we're not. Whether it be a job, a relationship, etc. Such a powerful statement. It's also about friendship in general - I don't want to get spoilerly but I loved how Bale developed a certain unexpected friendship. Anyway, just a few thoughts about what I thought was an outstanding film worthy of an A. But as you say, do grades really matter? Anyway, keep up the good work my friend!

  • GobleGableOneOfUs

    Just saw this. Comparable to the Godfather in terms of subtlety and epic. The tonal shifts....so what? How is that a weakness? This was by far the wittiest script of the year. It seems like Brad is somewhat blinded by pre-conceived notions of what conventions a particular genre should adhere to.

  • http://letterboxd.com/criterion10/ Criterion10

    Now having seen the film, this review is spot on.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Newbourne/ Newbourne

    I just saw the movie and couldn't help but think the whole time that this was entrapment at its finest. How could these politicians be arrested for fictitious bribes made by an FBI agent who basically had to coerce everybody involved into taking his money?? I don't know much about the real life operation, but I'm guessing entrapment laws must have been far more lenient in the 70's.