American Hustle is a hustle itself; it conned its audience in believing it was something substantive. Russell doesn’t pay tribute to the techniques of Scorsese or Paul Thomas Anderson, he straight up rips them off, but he’s not clever enough to employ the same subtleties or nuances that both directors have mastered. At first glance, American Hustle is a more restrained and deeper film than Wolf of Wall Street or Boogie Nights. On closer look, American Hustle is a copy-cat devoid of any heart or brain. Just a carefully created rouse to fool people.
Due to the absence of any character development (backstory doesn’t count as character development), the acting in American Hustle is awfully directed, so that each scene feels like a sketch. Most notable are the scenes between Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Bradley Cooper. These are all fine actors. But Russell gives them no real direction and they participate in his self indulgent fantasy sketches. Jennifer Lawrence is horribly miscast in a role that really has no reason to exist. In real life, there was no mob threat. So, every scene she’s in is pointless and her accent is awful. I almost walked out during the scene she dances to “Live and Let Die.”
The only reason I’m giving this 2.5 stars rather than 1 is because of two things. 1) Louis CK is in it 2) Jeremy Renner’s performance. The only performance that is not sketchy and all-over-the-place is Jeremy Renner’s. The audience is actually interested in his motives and his goals, thus leading to his downfall to be tragic. Renner is the saving grace of the film. This is ironic because he is the only actor from the film that nobody gushed over at Awards season. I have no idea why not.
While I definitely like this more than Silver Linings Playbook, I still find it an extremely empty and hollow experience. David O. Russell is a hack.