American Hustle (2013)
While the operation that American Hustle is based upon (a not entirely successful sting operation called ABSCAM, conducted by the FBI in the late 1970s) undoubtedly has enough potential to make a good or even great movie out of, this is unfortunately not writer/director David O. Russell's (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook) main objective here. Instead he focuses on his characters, not all of which are interesting enough, and have them meddle in as many situations and setups as possible, often seemingly while having his actors ad libbing their lines. His intention is to create a film which delivers on two fronts; a film which on the one side is crisp, interesting and perhaps even a little suspenseful, and on the other side cool and funny. He is somewhat successful with the former, but largely fails with the latter.
And that is actually quite remarkable, because American Hustle seemingly has every ingredient, including a great set of actors and plenty of razzle-dazzle and half-clever shenanigans conducted in shady, tapped rooms by people in high positions. Unfortunately, both the script and the filming of it is a botch job, and Russell resorts to using means which are never the best of omens in films like these: a perpetual, over-explanatory narrator, an uninspired and unnecessary in-medias-res opening, and introducing his characters with as much hype as possible - ostensibly to cover up their shallowness.
The biggest problems in this respect is that our two main protagonists, Christian Bale's and Amy Adams' characters, have no heart or anything else to evoke our sympathy. They are weirdly under- and overplayed, respectively, and while Bale impresses with his physical transformation, his Irving Rosenfeld remains too bleak for anyone to really care about him. The other actors are mostly fine, with Jennifer Lawrence especially feisty as Bale's forgotten wife, but even Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner, who both try to get into their characters, have a hard time keeping them interesting in Russell's flashy and digressive handling. American Hustle boasts its style and extravaganza proudly, but lacks the necessary integrity and weight to back it up.