Entertainment Entertainment Movies

'American Hustle' review: Electric lady land

**1/2 (out of four)

In early December, the New York Film Critics Circle awarded director/co-writer David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” Best Picture and Best Screenplay. That’s pushing it. Lacking the confidence of Russell’s recent Oscar nominees (the great “Silver Linings Playbook,” the good “The Fighter”), the film often feels stuck between aping Martin Scorsese (“Goodfellas”) and Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights”). It’s rarely as playful or funny or loose or hip as it hopes.

There should be no complaints to the NYFCC, however, for awarding Best Supporting Actress to Jennifer Lawrence. A year after winning the Oscar for Best Actress in “Silver Linings,” she sneaks along the fringes of “Hustle” until eventually pulling off the kind of brilliant thievery the characters can only dream of. Opening by noting, “Some of this actually happened,” the film continually reminds us, often through various characters in lazily conceived voiceover, that life is but a con game, and everyone has an angle.

Looking like the polar opposite of his Oscar-winning role in “The Fighter,” Christian Bale plays Irving, a conscience-free swindler who’s a plump advocate of the comb-over. When he and his girlfriend, Sydney (Amy Adams), who poses as an English banking whiz named Edith, get pinched by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), the pair has no choice but to assist the Feds in exposing corrupt officials (including Jeremy Renner as a New Jersey mayor) or face time themselves.

Actually, they do have a choice, but Irving won’t flee the country--he loves the son he adopted after marrying Rosalyn (Lawrence), a live wire of hair and cleavage who her husband dubs “the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate.”

Set in the late ‘70s, the secondhand-feeling, overlong “American Hustle” is all dull ties and low necklines, but that’s hardly the reason the actresses outdo the actors here. Lawrence carefully adds dimension after dimension to a character that at first seems not to have any; Adams subtly reveals how much Sydney has given up to change her life and how worried she is about winding up with nothing.

A great cast isn’t everything, though. (Hello, “The Counselor”). And “Hustle,” a movie with so much talent and potential, falters with emotional currents that aren’t satisfyingly explored and oppressive voiceover that clashes with the onscreen effort at jazzy, crackling entertainment. Hey, Soderbergh (“Ocean’s Eleven”), you want a shot at this?

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.

 

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • 20 best movies of 2013
    20 best movies of 2013

    In a pretty strong year for movies, these were the 10 that not only stood out but warranted repeated viewings and serious discussion. By Matt Pais, RedEye movie critic     Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U mpais@tribune.com   Want more? Discuss this article...

  • 20 worst movies of 2013
    20 worst movies of 2013

    There were a lot of bad movies in 2013. These bugged me the most. Don't worry too much about the rankings; any movie that lands on this list really, really stinks. By Matt Pais, RedEye movie critic     Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U mpais@tribune.com   ...

  • Popping the question: Which GOP candidates would go to a gay wedding?
    Popping the question: Which GOP candidates would go to a gay wedding?

     When it comes to attending a gay wedding, not all presidential aspirants say “I do.”

  • Chicago woman's kidnapping story unravels after review of Ventra Card: cops
    Chicago woman's kidnapping story unravels after review of Ventra Card: cops

    A South Side woman admitted to authorities that she lied about being kidnapped rather than admit that she had been partying and using cocaine, prosecutors said at a court hearing Friday.

  • Cardinal Francis George dies after long struggle with cancer
    Cardinal Francis George dies after long struggle with cancer

    Cardinal Francis George, the first Chicago native to serve as the local archbishop and a man who during his 17-year tenure became the intellectual leader of the American church, died Friday after a yearslong struggle with cancer.

  • Chicago's 25+ new, coming-soon patios of 2015
    Chicago's 25+ new, coming-soon patios of 2015

    Sky’s out, thighs out. Sun’s out, guns out. And you should be too … outdoors, that is. The weather is finally warming up, and as Chicagoans, it’s our right to have as much fun in the sun as possible while it lasts. This season’s newest outdoor spaces are upping the ante on dining and drinking alfresco...

Comments
Loading