AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013, David O. Russell)
Artifice. It’s a huge part of whatever David O. Russell is trying to do in this sloppy, disjointed misfire — in the opening scene, the handsome Christian Bale has a gut the size of the Batmobile and is gluing on a combover wig. From that nail-hammering beginning, we keep getting scenes about artifice; and that’s just in the content (fraudulent impersonations, scam deals, Hispanics pretending to be Arab, government officials engaging in corruption, etc.) — to say nothing of the fact that its leads are a British actor playing an American with a thick New York accent and an American actress playing an American putting on a phony British accent.
But it’s because of Russell’s obsession with phoniness that this entire charade plays like a cheap, repugnant school play. The entire cast is stuck playing dress-up and pretend — Jeremy Renner looks like an actor excited to be in a movie about the ’70s; Jennifer Lawrence ditches Katniss for a trashy audition reel, and Amy Adams’s side boob gets most of the screen time while the face somewhere above it is in a histrionic meltdown as if each scene was done as a dare to be more emotionally volcanic than the previous one. But never once are these people recognizably human — it’s like we’re watching the dailies of a movie about movies, right down to the camera moves ripped off from BOOGIE NIGHTS and GOODFELLAS. And this is before Robert De Niro shows up to cash in another check for playing a smarmy wiseguy. Oh yeah, and I think Bradley Cooper is in the film — but you wouldn’t know it because isn’t he supposed to possess some amount of on-screen charisma?
Russell couldn’t care less about the true story this movie pretends to adapt — in fact, the opening title says “Some of these things actually happened.” One thing that didn’t happen is a decent screenplay getting written. While the cast drowns in a summer camp production of Weren’t The ’70s Full Of Funny Clothes, the audience is left wondering why these pieces are supposed to fit together — how can Russell be saying anything about America and its grand history of fakery if the world he presents is so unrecognizably non-American and unrealistic? The point is tough to miss, especially when there are at least two scenes where J-Law gets to pontificate about a nail polish that smells nice but is made of something nasty; but it’s a point lost in the morass of a nearly unwatchable slog splattered with manic scenes that stink like polyester left in an attic. At one point Bale shows Cooper a forged painting and says the reproduction is so convincing that you wonder, “Who’s the real master: the artist, or the forger?” The answer is clear. It isn’t the forger in this case. Anyone with two eyes can tell this picture is a phony.