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American Hustle (2013)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/18/2013

All Ratings out of



Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/13/2014

It has happened since the dawn of cinema and it's something to which we've become so accustomed that we barely notice it anymore -- directors and actors who work together on a regular basis. Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro or Leonardo Dicaprio. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. John Carpenter and Kurt Russell. These team-ups are something that we've come to expect. So, when it was announced that Director David O. Russell would be re-teaming with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, the stars of his award-winning film Silver Linings Playbook, I wasn't surprised. What was somewhat shocking was how quickly the project was underway. Silver Linings Playbook hit U.S. theaters in November and December, 2012. The follow-up, American Hustle, went before cameras in March, 2013 and was released in December. That's quite a turn-around for an Oscar-bait movie. And, as we've all been told, slow and steady wins the race.

Set in the late 1970s, American Hustle introduce us to Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a small-time scam artist who owns a chain a dry cleaners, and also sells forged art and charges people for loans that they never receive. He meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) at a party, and they hit it off. Irving introduces Sydney to his world and she offers to enhance it by posing as "Lady Edith Greensly", a British woman with "ties to banking". This increases Irving's loan scams and a romance ignites between the two. This is a problem, as Irving is married to Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), an emotionally unstable woman. The scam game is interrupted went FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) poses as a mark and busts Irving and Sydney. DiMaso is willing to cut a deal with the pair -- if they can deliver four big busts to him, he'll reduce the charges. The brainstorming behind this leads to an idea to convince politicians and other officials that they will be working with an Arab sheik and accept bribes. This operation became known as "Abscam". As the plan gets underway, Richie becomes obsessed not only with having it be a success, but with Sydney as well. This leads to personality clashes and a very volatile situation.

American Hustle is based on a true story and at the center of the film is the FBI's "Abscam" operation, which eventually saw convictions of over a dozen government officials. The film sticks to the centrals details of the real story and it's not surprising that someone would want to make this into a movie, as it's a fascinating and bizarre tale. It's not unusual for criminals who are facing conviction to make a plea bargain, but it is odd for those same bad guys to be asked to mastermind a government operation. Essentially, the FBI was asking these people to run a big scam and teach the feds how to do it. This sort of material has a lot of potential, as it could be played for suspense, or one could focus on the sheer absurdity of it and make it a comedy.

Leave it to David O. Russell to mess this up. In the "Making of" featurette included on this Blu-ray Disc, we learn that Writer Eric Warren Singer had created a script which was a procedural. Russell then came along and decided to focus on the characters. What does that mean? It means that the story takes a backseat to a lot of dialogue scenes which go nowhere. Russell has created yet another "based on a true story" movie where I would have rather seen a documentary than to coming away feeling that I knew very little of what happened in real life.

This, we are left with a movie which cannot decide what it wants to be. There's no doubt that Russell has assembled a great cast here. Along with the Bale, Adams, Cooper, and Lawrence, we get Jeremy Renner, Shea Whigham (of Boardwalk Empire) and Louis C.K. tackling a dramatic role. Unfortunately, all that we get are a lot of scenes where these actors yell and wear historically inaccurate costumes, and all of the jokes which youíve heard about the wigs in this movie are spot-on. Adams' character is supposedly from Albuquerque, but she has a New York accent. Every scene plays like an Oscar moment and I don't know who any of the scenery survived the shoot. But, every few minutes, American Hustle will remember that itís about Abscam and bring some aspect of that story back to the forefront, but itís never enough. Once the actual bribes begin, they seem to come out of nowhere and fly by. And whatís with the Live and Let Die music montage?

Russellís directing is a mess as well. He has attempted to give the movie the look of a Scorsese film and thatís perfectly understandable. But, any semblance of balance or control is shattered by his constant use of push ins. The first one is fine, but the subsequent ones make you wonder if heís just discovered the dolly. He also misses the boat on the storyís themes. Sting operations like the ones featured here raise a lot of moral questions, most notably in the case of Rennerís character. He was someone who truly wanted to help his constituents and was willing to take questionable money in order to do so. Does that make him a bad person? The movie turns a blind eye to this.

Whoever cuts the trailers for David O. Rusellís films must do a terrible job, as Iím always reluctant to see them. However, I have been impressed with Three Kings, The Fighter, and to an extent, Silver Linings Playbook. But, American Hustle is a true misfire as an impressive cast and an interesting story only yield a somewhat boring and self-indulgent movie which feels as if its goal is to win awards instead of entertaining us. I guess the Academy had the final say on that.

American Hustle spends way too much time on microwave ovens on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 27 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing on defects from the source material. The movie opens with intentionally grainy logos, but doesnít feature the look throughout. Russell has chosen to go with a lot of Earth tones, so we donít get a lot of bright colors here. The image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very good and the picture never goes soft. The depth is acceptable. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The period music sounds fine and a party scene provides notable surround sound. The stereo effects are nicely done and show good separation.

The American Hustle Blu-ray Disc is decidedly shorn of extras. The Disc contains eleven DELETED AND EXTENDED SCENES which run about 22 minutes. The bulk of this is taken up by a much longer version of a scene from the film between Sydney and Irving and two versions of Lawrence's very strange "Live and Let Die" sequence. There are a few new scenes, the most interesting of which is a sting which goes awry due to a squash tournament. "The Making of American Hustle" (17 minutes) contains comments from Russell and the primary cast. There is a discussion of how the project came about and how Russell sought to make it his own. The bulk of the piece focuses on the character and the themes of the film. We also hear some details about the creation of the look of the film.

Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long