American Hustle (2013) Dir. David O. Russell

Work has been extremely busy lately so I haven’t had much time to read Ulysses. So here is a movie review instead!

Con artist Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale) grew up to believe that in this world everyone is out to con everyone else. So naturally he grew up to be a conman. His emotionally unstable and needy wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), conned him into marrying her through her kid. Irving only finds a moment of true happiness when he meets and begins a love affair with Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) at a party. He feels so comfortable with her that he reveals his true occupation. Sydney soon joins him in his con, adopting a British accent and pretending to be a fake relative of British royalty, in which they ensnare desperate people in a fake banking scheme. This goes well until psychotic FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) catches Sydney during a sting and after arresting her convinces both of them to work for him in bringing down corrupt politicians and mobsters in New Jersey in exchange for dropping the charges. This event puts a wedge in Irving and Sydney’s relationship as Irving refuses to abandon Rosalyn because he loves his stepson like his own child and Sydney feels betrayed by his unwillingness to leave her; worsening matters is the fact that Richie, the FBI agent, has a thing for Sydney, and Sydney is more than happy to flirt back with him. But is Sydney conning Richie or is she conning Irving? As the operation goes on and everyone’s passions flare up it is hard to tell who is coning who!

The film deals with the issue of unhappiness and illusion in our own lives. Richie DiMaso likes his job, where he can be a big gun and important, but dislikes his boring life at home, which is the extreme opposite of his work life, where he is impotent and sits around listening to his mother yell at him nonstop. This is paralleled by Irving who seems alive and happy during his cons and with Sydney, but impotent and tired when he must return home to Rosalyn. Sydney, too, leaves her former life to be somebody else, someone different than herself. In this sense the con game is more metaphorical for the illusions of our identity and relationships. We con ourselves into adapting roles because we think it will bring us an elusive happiness, but as the film suggests these cons just make things more complicated and confusing over time.

The film evokes a similar tone as Goodfellas with its Italian street culture and unstable women always arguing with their criminal husbands without actually being a mob film or containing any real violence for that matter. Another good quality of the film is that the acting is spectacular. Richie begins as a slightly wild law enforcement official, but progresses over time into an emotionally unstable monster who beats up his own boss, almost rapes Sydney, rants like a petulant child on the phone when he can’t have something for his operation, and ignores the existence of his own fiancé. Meanwhile, Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn almost steals the show because she is just so crazy and selfish; the film makes us feel how frustrating it must be for Irving to live with her all the time.

While the acting is wonderful, all these emotionally unstable characters serving as the main cast, leads to one of the main problems of the film; the characters are extremely annoying and it gets tiring to watch so many miserable people with their constant fluctuations of emotions. While sometimes they are engaging precisely because they are so crazy, at other times, it is like being forced to sit in a classroom while someone slowly scratches their nails across a chalkboard. You’re left wondering how can so many emotionally unstable, unhappy, and downright annoying people congregate in one room. This is coupled with a second problem: the film felt overly long. I can’t pinpoint any particular part I would suggest cutting, but the film just keeps going and going.

 

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