After seeing them both in the same weekend, it’s hard to talk about American Hustle without comparing it to the far superior The Wolf of Wall Street. Both are near-period pieces based on true stories. Both trade in themes of greed and corruption. And both are highly chaotic in terms of style and structure. But where Scorsese expertly sculpted his chaos into a specific vision with something to say, David O Russell seems content to throw a lot of parts on screen and hope that what sticks adds up to a cohesive whole. It doesn’t… Not quite, anyway.
Make no mistake, Russell is a supremely talented artist, working with a top-notch cast and crew – also like Wolf, both films have incredible performances from actors at the top of their game. His last two films, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, are among my very favorites in recent memory. Both were taut little character studies that hit home in small unexpected ways. This time he brings the same cast from both those films, but the characters all suffer from being drowned out by all their co-stars. A problem exemplified perhaps most fittingly by the 3 different narrators trading the story back and forth. It gets confusing, to say the least.
The standout performances are Jennifer Lawrence as a housewife like no other, Louis C.K. as a fantastically milquetoast FBI chief, and Amy Adams’ side-boob which, as amazing as Adams is, chews up more scenery, with more screen-time, than she or any other actor has the chance to compete with. But Lawrence has the biggest chance of an Oscar nomination, and it would be a deserved one. Along with her Oscar win last March and her performance in The Hunger Games 2, she’s having one hell of a year.
The technical standouts are the costumes, the outlandish hair, and as always Christian Bale’s physical transformation. Seriously that guy is going to die of heart failure in the next 10 years if he keep ballooning his weight up and down with every other film!
All in all, American Hustle is still a really good movie, but it’s not quite a great one.