I was a little perturbed to see American Hustle had made the list, mainly for one reason; I had heard good things, but I had also heard a lot of bad things, and the people who were saying the bad things were a little more adamantly vocal about it. Naturally, I was on edge going into the film, even despite (and maybe partially because of) the critical acclaim it amassed. After it was all over, I gained a very large sense of understanding; understanding of the people on both sides of the critical fence and how they ended up either which way. There should be a lot to like about American Hustle; it has all the components there. They’re just not assembled correctly, that’s all.
The film is a mostly fictional account of the ABSCAM operation conducted by the FBI in the 70s and 80s to catch politicians in bribery traps. The fictional tale of the film follows Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, two con artists caught in an FBI sting who are offered leniency if they agree to use their conning skills to bring in new marks for the FBI, which leads them to a New jersey mayor and an underground mobster, whom Irving’s FBI agent overseer is eager to take down. Only problem is, all their scheming may be thrown into question thanks to all the wildcards in play, in particular Irving’s wife Rosalyn. If you read that plot summary and immediately knew all the major players and who they play, then you did indeed watch some form of entertainment media around the tail end of the year 2013. Everyone knew this film, who was in it, and who was who in the scheme of things, and I have to give it to the marketing department on this film; they played up that angle as much as they could, and rightfully so. The performances in the film are the standout (though I was still a little surprised to see that the film did get all four acting category nominations at the Oscars); everyone knows how to play their role to get done what they need to get done. It’s not outstanding, but it is very well done. Also, the people on the artistic side of the technicals must have had a freaking field day with this particular canvas; the costumes are as varied as they are characteristic, the production design and art direction was very nice to look at, and the cinematography added to the characterization that everything seemed to be adding toward. Except… that right there was my main issue with American Hustle; that everything seemed to be so cut-and-dry, ‘this part has to go here and act this way and look like this’ directing, that seemed to only be so just for the sake of being so. There was no purpose, no underlying goal that the film and the filmmakers were building toward; they were just going through the motions to make another critically acclaimed film, and it unfortunately felt that way very heavily through the whole running time. There were also more than a few instances of overdubbing I was able to catch, which just meant a couple additional points off in my book.
The whole time I was watching American Hustle, I kept wondering what the point of it all was. It didn’t take me long to realize that the film itself was wondering this as well. To use an analogy my father likes to use, most films tends to go with a rifle approach; one shot, one bullet, fired at exactly the right spot to hit the mark you’re aiming at, and nothing else. American Hustle opts instead for the shotgun approach; a scattershot of rounds to hit every conceivable area around your mark, regardless of where you’re specifically aiming. What this amounts to, film-wise, is a picture that tries to be a little of everything, and never truly aiming for the one thing, the one consolidated vision, it needed to be. That’s American Hustle. If you do decide to see this, see it for the performances, and maybe for the visual panache on display, because if you go into it expecting anything else, you might be a little underwhelmed with what little you do get out of it on the other side.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10