Do the Hustle!

We're in the dead zone of the calendar, movie-wise, and we all know what that means. It's time to pack in all the Oscar buzz films that I've missed before the awards roll around. I've got a reputation to defend! First up in this brand spanking new year was David O. Russell's American Hustle, which has been getting critical cartwheels for a while now.

I liked Silver Linings Playbook quite a bit, despite its third act problems, and the cast of American Hustle certainly inspires hope for a great movie. Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, and Amy Adams are all favorites of mine, and Bradley Cooper has been steadily improving lately. Plus, who wouldn't love a caper set in the '70s? The plot centers on a dramatization and exaggeration of the ABSCAM scandal, while also exploring the relationships between a pudgy-but-magnetic con man (Bale) and the ladies in his life, from his wife (Lawrence) to his mistress/partner-in-crime (Adams). When Bradley Cooper's FBI agent snares him, the little gang is forced to assist in an ever-widening trap for corrupt politicians and gangsters.

There was a lot to like about this movie. Bale and Adams knock their roles out of the park, and plenty of scenes are tense or amusing by turn. Everything and everyone is soaked in a sheen of tacky '70s bullshit, which fits the mood perfectly. That said, does this movie deserve the critical tongue bath it's getting? No. If I had caught it a week ago, it wouldn't even make my top ten of 2013. While plenty of scenes work well, they don't add up to a terrific movie. At just north of two hours, it's not an overly long film, but you feel every minute of it. And you may have noticed that I left one of the top billed actors out of the list up there, and that, I'm sorry to say, is because Jeremy Renner is the one sore thumb here. His performance is wooden, and his accent slides all over the place.

With some more judicious editing and some tonal shifts, American Hustle would be a great movie. As it stands, it's a perfectly decent one. With so many great films to choose from in 2013, I'm not sure why this fine-but-middling one is soaking up so much cultural conversation, but that doesn't mean it's not worth seeing. If for nothing else, it should be certainly credited with injecting the term "science oven" into everyone's lexicon.

American Hustle: B-


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