David O Russell has a talent, which you cannot reasonably deny. Directing some truly outstanding previous projects, such as Three Kings, The Fighter and to a lesser extent, last years’ Oscar darling Silver Linings Playbook, you know that when you’re introduced to a new film from this director, that it is going to be something special.
Add to this that he has now firmly placed himself in the hearts of Academy voters everywhere, through a back catalogue of quality enjoyed by few in this recent era, plus commanding an enviable stable of acting talent that see him as friend as well as genius and you have all the makings of a classic just yelling to be made. Few directors can guarantee to garner plaudits so readily and with American Hustle, there has been much frothing at the pen and keyboard already. Critics appear to be falling over themselves to hurl positive superlatives at the film, but perhaps it is a toast made in haste, for on reflection, Russell’s latest project may not have all the minerals we were expecting.
A minority of dissenting voices have been heard. The mostly ignored rebels at the back of the room, maybe with an axe to grind, maybe with a point to prove, that have rightly pointed out the flaws in what may have been seen as a given a little too early. Too often is the inspired influence of Martin Scorsese to be found lingering in the shadows here, as if Russell has believed his own press too often and thought that yes, Jennifer Lawrence can indeed out-Ginger Sharon Stone in Casino. The Mob may not have too much to say in this retro-fitted fashion show, but the hint of Scorsese and Ace Rothstein are a little too difficult to ignore, particularly for those who love that film and baulk at the merest hint of a plagiarism of mood and tone, even if it is flawed and slight.
I’m not in the habit of reading reviews of others before writing my own, but I have to admit that after seeing the film, I was left wondering if I had seen the same film that every other gushing reviewer had been aparty to. One critic nailed it earlier today, suggesting that the stars on screen were trying to ‘out-act their costumes’. It comes as no surprise that at least one brave Hollywood insider suggested that these caricatures we are introduced to are little more than just that. American Hustle seems weighed down by its directors’ reputation of deemed gravitas and authenticity, unbelievably becoming more bogged down in retrospection than is believable. The film positively glows its period placement like an acid trip or lucid dream, which appears to have overshadowed the story almost entirely.
American Sweethearts and Actors Studio Heavyweights abound the project with Russell favourites Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro all showing up in some capacity or other, as if to lend weight to the notion that if they were good enough to grab an Oscar or two last time out, well let’s just see what they can do this time. If sequins and tuxedos do indeed have a smell, you would be able to catch a whiff of them from where you’re sitting right now, wherever it may be, so likely are these superstars to be nominated in awards season for something.
Shorter than Smaug by a good half an hour and alot less satisfying, American Hustle is accomplished and authentic, but somehow less fun and imbibed with less relish. The script is as tight as it needs to be but never enthrals the wordier of the audience. The performances of its main players are believable to an extent and their characters are suitably misogynistic where appropriate. Accusations of sexism are rife, of course, but this says rather more about Russell’s intentions to be honest rather than some personal statement about the fairer sex.
A very watchable project from Russell & Co, but one can’t help feel that this is not the grand and sweeping opus that it might well have been, and what we might rightly have expected. For your money, there will be/ has been better value for your buck this awards season, but don’t expect that fact to sway the awards judges in the next few months. If you’re expecting the hybrid of Casino and Boogie Nights, you might see elements of both here, but this lacks the final cut of either. If you prepare yourself for an Ocean’s Eleven instead, you might feel better by the time you hit the exit.