I just don’t have much to say about American Hustle. Not for lack of trying, but the film hasn’t given me much to think about since I saw it a week ago. It’s a perfectly okay movie built on a mildly interesting true story that has a few things to say about the follies of greed, and includes a pair of knockout performances. But more than all that, and first, it’s a film that reminds you how utterly flaky Academy voters can be.
Something tends to happen around this time of year; lazy moviegoers see a string of nominees, invariably a few of them don’t hold up to the kudos, and frustration and bitterness blur the analytical eye. But American Hustle feels particularly aberrational, a movie pulling far too much juice from its leads (specifically, Christian Bale and Amy Adams, who are both undeniably great…again). David O. Russell had something to say with Silver Linings Playbook — a story built on a framework of mental illness and close to the director’s heart — but Hustle seems forced, a hurried film from a filmmaker eager to maintain downhill momentum. Of course there are good things — Russell has proved far too competent a storyteller not to win an audience’s trust — but like Jennifer Lawrence’s mess of a housewife, everything good sits right on the surface. It’s a movie about big, goofy characters and big, goofy music from the 70s. It’s a big movie that doesn’t have much to say. Hardly a crime, but isn’t a milder period dramedy with morally-dank characters and half-baked jokes the reason they don’t have to nominate more than five films each year? Yet here we are, with a film like American Hustle competing against a film like 12 Years a Slave for one of the grandest plaudits in the land.
No one is suggesting that the Oscars are otherwise infallible, and discussing what belongs or doesn’t is such an utterly subjective task that it’s mostly silly to bother, but in a year where a film as powerful as Fruitvale Station was never even an option, it’s hard not to want to pick on American Hustle a little bit; it’s the kind of movie you’ll eventually forget you ever saw.