As award season progresses, more and more films hopeful for potential accolades are released to warm critics but lukewarm audiences. Films are praised for their “artistic vision”, yet are unbearable to watch by anyone without a film degree. However, there is a film that every so often delights critics but still can provide a fun time for normal audiences. This is the case with American Hustle.
American Hustle is brilliantly directed by David O. Russell, who brings the raw emotion he has been known for in films such as The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, but is still able to provide a humorous con film that delights and surprises. While few films are able to crack a balance between comedy and drama, American Hustle does so in an expert way by telling a rather dark story, yet not feeling that it has to take anything too seriously.
Perhaps the best part of the quirky world that David O. Russell has created is the interesting characters that inhabit it. It is very clear that every actor in the film has not only extensively read the script, but has made it a point to inhabit the characters. The connection between the actors and script is so clear that the whole film feels open to improvisation if the actor’s own improvisation matches the vision of David O. Russell’s script.
Of course, the acting is incredible throughout. Christian Bale completely inhabits his charming con-man alter ego to the point that it is easily forgotten that a year ago he was the Dark Knight. Amy Adams plays a great foil for Bale, which is easily some of the year’s best on screen chemistry. Adams is also able to sell the film’s overall quirky tone, especially when she interacts with the over the top FBI agent portrayed by Bradley Cooper. Similar to his role in Silver Linings Playbook, Cooper is given a completely ridiculous character to play, but is able to portray him with such accuracy and comedic genius that he steals the film.
Jennifer Lawrence gives a strong supporting performance as Christian Bale’s hilariously stupid estranged wife. Although her character has few strong moments outside of her chemistry with Bale and other actors, she sells the character very well and has several great moments near the end of the film. Jeremy Renner also has a strong supporting performance that defeats his unfair stereotype as an action star, and reminds the audience of the terrific actor from The Hurt Locker and The Town. Renner effortlessly entertains as the good natured but corrupt politician, who carries some of the films strongest emotional moments. Near the end of the film, there is a cameo appearance that although played for laughs, works for the film’s style.
The editing is also a positive, with a very distinctive style that avoids being generic at all costs. The score is not always present, instead putting an emphasis on background songs, which add to the films charming nature and help sell some of the film’s ridiculously comedic moments (including one of Jennifer Lawrence’s best moments featuring a certain Paul McCartney song). The sound design and visuals effects are nothing spectacular, but they suffice for the film.
American Hustle is a rarity in Hollywood, an award season film that doesn’t seem to have any predetermined sense of self righteousness, instead providing a comedic yet dramatic adventure ride with sharp writing and fantastic performances. Definitely a frontrunner for Best Picture, American Hustle is a fun, dark, and completely enjoyable ride that is fantastically ridiculous and endlessly entertaining. Grade: +A