Friday, January 10, 2014

Film Review: American Hustle

Copyright: Columbia Pictures
Bradley Cooper does try. He tries very hard in every scene in this film, from the first moment we’re introduced to his character, a driven and hugely ambitious FBI agent named Richie DiMaso. He is the person that puts a stop to a con artist operation run by Irving Rosenfeld and his accomplice/girlfriend Sydney. Christian Bale and Amy Adams play the grifters, who get forced by DiMaso to become part of his team.

He devises a story about a UAE sheik that is willing to invest a lot of money in the newly legal gambling enterprises in the East coast region, and plans to entrap politicians, mobsters and anyone else who he sees as corrupt and thus a potential target. But his unhealthy need to prove himself and become a top dog in law enforcement soon starts to degrade the plan, while Rosenfeld’s estranged and emotionally unstable wife (played by Jennifer Lawrence) only complicates things.

Compared to Bale, Adams and Lawrence, Cooper doesn’t have the chops to compete on this acting level. Bale is very skillful at his art, and shows Rosenfeld as rich character, brilliant but also unsure about the effectiveness of the strategies that are intended to keep him and Sydney alive and out of jail. His gestures and sounds that he makes are subtle and almost unnoticeable, but still work.  Rosenfeld is a real guy, while DiMaso isn’t. In fact, every other character in this film is more believable than he is.

Louis C.K. plays DiMaso’s timid FBI boss, and even he does it with more tact than Cooper. Even worse, Cooper’s commitment to the role made him push DiMaso to a level of exuberance and self-centeredness that simply isn’t authentic in any way. Surrounded by phenomenal actors, Bradley Cooper is painfully average.

But he doesn’t spoil the film. David O. Russell directed it as a period piece, focusing visually on the clothes and general style of the 70’s. The soundtrack does pretty much the same, and the tunes range from Middle Eastern covers of disco hits to sing-a-longs to Tom Jones songs. This kind of expressive, extroverted style helped in shaping the film more as a comedy than an Ocean's Eleven type of thriller, in spite that the ending brought some boring elements from similar heist films.

American Hustle is based on real events, but that to me seems completely irrelevant. As a drama, the film delves into the personal lives of people who live on the line separating legal from illegal, but it doesn’t really explore the culture or the history of the period. This aspect of the film never reaches further than funny haircuts and ugly golden man-chains worn by all male characters.

I loved this movie, even through its unnecessary long runtime; it’s light and charming and successfully bonds the audience to Rosenfeld and the two women in his complicated and dangerous life. Its strongest suit is that it features some of the best actors in Hollywood, and its weakest is Bradley Cooper.