American Hustle poster

To be perfectly honest, this reviewer was bored for lengthy portions of American Hustle, David O. Russell’s unaccountably lauded opus about the Abscam scandal. Like too many period pieces set in fashion-distinctive epochs, Hustle evinces an overly polished and inorganic quality, more concerned with fussing about its garish clothing, bizarre hairstyles, and flaunting an unwarranted sense of its own super-coolness than with the development of characters deserving of the audience’s interest. As with the less inspired moments in Scorsese’s oeuvre, American Hustle is too content to slide by on the likability of its vintage pop soundtrack and slick but empty visual flair, with – of course! – the obligatory trip to a decadent discotheque.

The performances of Bale, Cooper, and others are fine, but hardly career highlights. Russell’s unconvincing dialogue, co-credited to Eric Warren Singer, bears much of the blame for the film’s lifelessness. Actors can hardly be blamed for failing to salvage compelling drama out of the likes of the following yawners: “This is bullshit. We are bullshit. You were bullshit. You were bullshit.” While no character in American Hustle is particularly sympathetic, there are some affecting moments toward the end of the film when flimflam man Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) begins to feel guilty about misleading and ruining a mark he has come to view as his friend. This in no way justifies a run time in excess of two hours, however – leaving the viewer to wonder whether the tale of this potbellied, philandering Jew con artist with a heart of gold needed to be told at all.

ICA’s advice: For a 70s con game period piece, see Richard Gere in The Hoax instead.

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that American Hustle is:

8. Pro-drug. Nothing sells marijuana like the sight of a beautiful temptress (Amy Adams) smoking a joint.

7. Anti-American. Check the title.

6. Multiculturalist. Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) maintains friendly relations with the minority community and even adopts a black kid to show what a great guy he is.

5. Pro-gay, with one gratuitous lesbian kiss.

4. Pro-slut. Movie stars making out in a bathroom – how glamorous! Rosenfeld does “the right thing” by marrying single mother Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

3. Zionist, calling attention to the undying bogeyman of American politicians’ insidious willingness to sell out the country’s well-being to the Arabs. Dismissive reference is also made to (Israel-hating, Palestine-loving) “fuckin’ Jimmy Carter”.

2. Relativistic. “That’s the way the world works. Not black and white like you say. Extremely gray.”

1. Obamist. In union-friendly Carmine Polito, American Hustle portrays the corrupt but humble and likable politician as tragic hero, a man of the people, a caring, avuncular figure genuinely concerned with the welfare of his constituents, and who presides over a system of corruption only so as to create new jobs. “We dream and we build,” he says. Overly zealous investigators like DiMaso (Cooper) are ruining America, Rosenfeld charges, by exposing high misdeeds and so destroying the people’s faith in their leaders. So lay off the Solyndra, Benghazi, NSA, IRS, and other scandals, American Hustle cautions, lest the spiritually vulnerable masses lose their precious hope.

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