(Note: Because I let this sit in Draft for over a month without hard-coding the date and time of watching, this is only a guess as to when it was viewed. I'm pretty sure it was before Her, so I've put it here. Boo for sloth!)
David O. Russell has been a bit of an Oscar factory lately with his past two films - 2010's The Fighter (which won Best Supporting Oscars for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, and a nomination for Amy Adams) and Silver Linings Playbook (Best Actress J.Law, nominations in all the other acting categories including Bradley Cooper) - continues his streak for actors with American Hustle which reunites Bale, Adams, Cooper and J.Law for a trip to 1978 to revisit the barely remembered AbScam (for "Arab scam") sting which roped in several Congressional critters.
The veracity meter is tempered right out of the box with the helpful title card stating, "Some of this actually happened," but Russell clearly isn't super interested in a history lesson as much as crafting a character study of various grifters and desperate people, though he isn't very successful because in creating his menagerie of characters to play with, he didn't really give them much to do. There's a weird timeline jump right off the bat only because it seems Russell wanted to do a long bit about Bale's ridonkulous combover hairdo. Everyone in this movie seems defined by their hair from Bale to Cooper's permed curls to J.Law's blowsy blondeness to Adams Farrah-esque waves; there's more attention to the hair than plot at times.
Muddying things further is the use of narration by some, but not all of the characters. If we're going to know what some are thinking, why not everyone? So interested in the surface elements Russell is, we never really know what's motivating the relationships. While it makes sense for single mother J.Law to latch onto a sugar daddy and Bale's dry cleaning grifter snagging a hot young MILF sorta makes sense, why not find a less ball-breaking, unencumbered woman? It feels as if a half-hour of interesting story details have been trimmed out to leave enough time for the hair and plunging necklines.
The reason the story even holds our interest is due to the stellar performances across the board. Oscar buzz is that Cate Blanchett has Best Actress locked up, but if it wasn't for her, I can't see how Amy Adams wouldn't win. Her character has a look of steely desperation in her eyes and she's so hungry for the good life, she's lost her grip on who she really is. I've seen reviews dissing her dodgy British accent, but those critics clearly weren't paying attention as to why that is. J.Law is a blowsy hoot and if she hadn't won an Oscar last year and wasn't so young, she'd probably win here. Cooper, Bale, Renner and even Louis C.K. are money. Too bad the story doesn't groove as much as it hustles.
Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.