I’ve been struggling with this one a bit. I went into it thinking I’d be so amped about it — on paper, it has everything I could ever want in a movie, which is to say: Bradley Cooper, Bradley Cooper with silly hair, Louis C.K., outrageous 70s costumes, a dangerous scheme, and a dance-worthy soundtrack. At the end of the movie, though, I found myself underwhelmed.
This could be the David O. Russell effect, though. He has a way of taking very high-stakes and high-emotional situations and very quietly downplaying them. I’d venture to say that his last three pictures — this, and Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter — all had basically the same level of emotional output and tone. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that there’s a very distinct, specific blanket that he puts on his films. Perhaps the lowest-stakes of these three movies, SLP, was the most emotionally raw, with the outbursts from Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. And perhaps this one, American Hustle, which I’d think would have been a bit more shoot-em-up, considering all the loan scams and money laundering going on, was the most sedated. I don’t quite get it.
I have to give my friend credit for fleshing out this theory so well. She pointed out that the characters, as interesting and crazy as their lives are, aren’t really believable outside of the exact words we hear them say on screen. And it’s true. I can’t imagine what Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) or Richie DiMaso (Cooper) or Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) or Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence) would say to each other beyond the two hours and change that I had to get to know them. I might be able to have a real conversation with Louis C.K.’s character, Stoddard Thorsen, but that’s because he was basically playing himself behind a desk. (And I love him for that.)
Maybe I’m also a little dense, but I found it difficult to follow just how dangerous Rosenfeld and Prosser’s lives were, and how much they were risking. All of the proverbial cards were out there — Rosenfeld was constantly popping pills for his heart because he was so stressed, Prosser was adopting a British accent to cover her tracks — but I never felt tense about any of it. And the master of Inserting Tension Into A Scene, Robert De Niro, even made his little appearance and I barely flinched. It was as if we were supposed to take this whole situation with a grain of salt, as if it was just a love story between two people that happened to involve stealing a lot of money from other people.
That can’t be the point of this movie, though. It’s maybe 1/4 a love story, 3/4 a study about the 70s, and about how it’s impossible to know what really happened a lot of the time. Those are essentially the first words we see on screen, anyway. “Some of this happened.” I like that Russell established the lack of seriousness right away, to let us know that we shouldn’t get too invested in it because the details we invest in might be the fake ones. But once you’re in a movie, watching actors you like do things you enjoy, it’s hard not to get invested. I think it comes down to the fact that my own emotions were toyed with in a way that I didn’t quite know how to handle.
One final thing. The acting in this movie was, of course, superb. Cooper was incredible and intense, especially, and his hair was impossible to look away from. And J.Law put on quite a show, too, despite the fact that we didn’t see as much of her as we ought to. I’m still not convinced that Adams applied the British accent consistently throughout the movie, but I’ll let my ignorance get the best of me there. Christian Bale, though. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why he chose to gain weight for this movie, and this role. The Fighter is definitely his crowning achievement, one for which he dropped a shite-ton of weight. But Irving Rosenfeld just didn’t seem worth it to me. He’s interesting enough, but not so interesting that he needed to go on the Fat Mac diet and balloon himself. Bale is also a superb actor, of course, but wouldn’t it have made more sense just to hire an actor who already has the look? I wasn’t incredibly convinced by his chemistry with Amy Adams, either. I don’t know.
I need to see this movie again, probably. I’m definitely willing to. I’ll watch Bradley Cooper in tiny hair rollers forever.