Movie review: “American Hustle” depresses

Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence in "American Hustle."

Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle.”

By Pete Zarustica, E Pluribus Unum

If you don’t believe in heroes, “American Hustle” is the movie for you.

In this comedy-drama set in the late Seventies and early Eighties, everyone is on the make from crooks to government agents to elected officials. It’s technically proficient, but downright depressing.

David Russell directs this story about two con artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) who are conned in turn and forced to help the FBI (in the specific person of Bradley Cooper) in a sting operation that was called “Abscam,” for those of you who were around in that era of disco and big hats.

“Hustle” in some ways resembles “The Wolf of Wall Street” (review on this site earlier) but lacks of exuberance of the former. In this film, bad guys trying to get rich without work look like they are having a miserable time of it; most of them seem to be like job-trapped white collar workers wishing for the weekend.

There are some remarkable things to this movie. Bale, best known as the superfit crimefighter Batman, is a flabby confidence man with one of the worst comb-overs in American film history. Adams, typically a bright, good girl (she was Lois Lane in “Man of Steel”), is stripper and a shill here, starting in a G-string and not improving her look much thereafter.

Cooper is a sociopath FBI agent who somehow gets away with berating, then beating his supervisor in a situation that strains belief.  The real scene-stealing is done by Jeremy Renner as the major of Camden, New Jersey.220px-American_Hustle_2013_poster

Renner, as Carmine Polito (odd name for a politician, don’t you think?), gives us an essentially honest public figure that is just a little to willing to cut legal corners in order to give his suffering city an economic boost.

Also noteworthy is Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn, Bale’s slightly screwball wife. Taking together her performances in “Hunger Games,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Hustle,” we’re seeing the tremendous range of one of America’s finest young actresses.

There is also a late, uncredited appearance by Robert deNiro as a Mafia crime boss, which serves to liven up what’s an otherwise melancholy film.

Most film critics will love this, but the typical moviegoer may find that it’s almost as discouraging a sight as the Caped Crusader with a beer gut.

Peter’s score: C+.

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  1. Wayne Sherwood says:

    I disagree. I find “American Hustle” to be a very entertaining and amusing film. In an era when personalities are being Photoshopped to look prettier, Christian Bale excels in his beer gut, come over character.

    Without running on and on about the film, I think the main thing to take away from it is that it is fun to watch, most of the time. And in the end one begins to feel sorry for the so called bad guys.

    Of course the movie is worth seeing just for the wardrobe, or someone lack of it, that Amy Adams wears, But to be serious, this films show the talent that Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams will be providing us with for a long time to come.

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