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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Buddy Beaverhausen Catches Up with Oscars' Best Picture Nominees # 1: American Hustle

This is the first in my Oscar Best Picture 2014 review series.

American Hustle was originally entitled American Bullshit (really) and perhaps that title is better suited to this effort. Despite its Best Picture win at the Golden Globes and looming Academy Award Best Picture nomination, American Hustle is a performance-driven film. Its unnecessarily convoluted, over-indulged plot line taxed my attention span and I found it hard to sit all the way through its final denouement because, frankly, my dears, I didn't give a damn about these unsympathetic characters in a muddle of a long-winded and contrived con/heist movie.

I also found the disco-era, "ha ha, look how tacky the '70s were" conceit rather obnoxious and off-putting if not by any means inaccurate. American Hustle is florid with its ’70s period overkill; hyperbolic and a bit like wearing too much Aramis, flashing too many mood rings or sipping too many tequila sunrises. To ante up the tacky factor, the action is set in Jersey and Vegas.

Director David O. Russell is a current Hollywood hot property, having directed The Fighter and Silver Lining Playbook among other noteworthy recent efforts, making him an Oscar darling. But American Hustle smacks of David O.'s overindulgence.

Given the intensity of the performances, it's rather odd that this film feels so sluggish and enervated. It's basically a heist film that allows little tension or suspense to get in its way. Christian Bale, sporting a pot belly and a toupee with a comb-over, is apparently going for the Best Actor Oscar in a big, Raging Bull sort of way. Bradley Cooper is solid (and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee) as is Jeremy Renner. Amy Adams -- often typecast in ingenue roles -- makes a wonderful bad girl (Best Actress Oscar nominee), but it's Jennifer Lawrence who steals the film with her over-the-top characterization, snagging a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

All in all, a daunting ensemble to be sure but, basically, five characters in search of a film. Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell have no business being Best Writing, Original Screenplay nominees in my humble opinion. In fact, if you're asking me, that's the biggest American hustle of all.




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