American Hustle (dir. David O. Russell, 2013) – FBI enlists a con artist Irving Rosenfeld and his partner Sydney Prosser in an elaborate sting operation to entrap corrupt politicians.
Performed with abandon, American Hustle verges on anarchic in its unconventional retelling of a true scandal. Ease on the Scorsese references, critics.
Some of these actually happened, a jocose title card warns. In other words, this will not be in any way true to the real Abscam operation. Billing itself as part-fiction right at the start, American Hustle manages any expectations for truth and rejects scrutiny. This review could do with a warning too: Some of these opinions are actually unpopular. Now, I can get down to the nitty-gritty (while armed with a Vibranium shield).
In essence, the plot centres on FBI’s collaboration with a convicted con-artist for an elaborate ploy against corrupted politicians. Political corruption seems a subject more suited to a quiet biographical representation. But director David O. Russell offers the true story an unusually energetic treatment.
Most of it works.
He cleverly reconstructs the serious events with memorable humour. An effective satirical take throws in an interesting composite of half-truths and utter exaggerations, making for a fun guessing game.
Fact: Pseudonyms aside, most of the characters at the centre of the storm have their real-life counterparts.
Fiction: Their unusually garish and absurd ’70s apparel is a dead give-away that the portrayals slant towards fiction and at times farce, in favour of comedic effect.
Of comb-overs, pot bellies, tight curls and fake tans – eyes fall first on their outrageous wardrobe. It is not hard to imagine the disconnect with the hodgepodge of visibly mad characters.
Granted that the ensemble cast comprises cherry-picked favourites, an incomplete list including Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams. Imagine my disappointment, as I watch the talented ensemble try to make the best out of their roles as largely unlikable caricatures.
As the plot thickens with numerous layers of deceit and betrayal, the movie struggles to find its way. Improvisations in this case distract more than interest in a confused narrative. With reins hung loose, the unfettered structure starts to entangle. The querulous band of personalities enters a chaotic war zone, with a ceaseless crossfire of endless and aimless squabbling.
Past mid-point, it all gets too loud, fast, and over-the-top. Driven as though unmanned, American Hustle ends up a disappointingly odd mess. It has to be said that a good laugh is not entirely out of the question. If only at my favourite actors gradually losing it…