Picoreview: American Hustle

Picoreview: American Hustle: better than I expected, even given all its glowing reviews.

Much of that is because I was expecting to hate all the characters but instead found myself enjoying them all to a fair degree. Brad Cooper plays an FBI agent who’s not as smart as he thinks he is; an almost unrecognizeable Christian Bale plays a con artist who *is* as smart–at least about cons—as he thinks he is. I was basically expecting everybody to be about as sympathetic as the characters in August: Osage County, but they had a fair amount of humanity going for them and that drew me in farther than I expected, by a considerable margin.


Jennifer Lawrence, in a much-lauded role, plays Bale’s wife, which…she’s very good as. Very good. But in this, as with Silver Linings Playbook, I felt she was too young for the part. SLP at least makes a nod to her youth and its problematic aspect within the context of the film; American Hustle doesn’t, and her age and glamour next to Bale’s age and total lack of glamour…did not convince me. Which is *really* too bad, because it was a great part and she nailed it, but she can’t do (or they chose not to do) anything about the fact that she’s 23.

I had exactly the same problem with Amy Adams and Elisabethh Rohm, in fact. They’re both old enough for the parts they played, and Rohm, as Jeremy Renner’s wife, was within the bounds of possibility (although she’s roughly 9000 times more elegant and up-kept than Renner’s character), but despite the helpful voiceover telling us why Adams’ character was attracted to Bales’s, I didn’t buy it. I *completely* bought Lawrence and Adams’ power over *Bale*, but the other way around? Not so much.

The ironic thing here is that nearly all of Bale’s usual twitchery was not on display, and in fact his alternatingly Super Intense/Puppy Dog Gaze was totally muffled by the awful glasses he wore, and these are things that as a movie-goer I really want to *see* from Bale. I want him to play roles that go beyond what he normally does (I really want him to do a romcom, just to see if he can), and he did here, and…it didn’t work for me.

I *did* buy him as the smart-enough-to-know-when-he’s-not, talented con man (Adams is the brains of the operation, even if Bale isn’t dumb), but his supposed charisma, apparently particularly for women but definitely in general, was sufficiently overwhelmed by gross physicality that I just … wasn’t able to believe the women being drawn to him in the way that they were (a problem particularly compounded by Lawrence’s youth), and that made me spend way too much of the movie kind of going “really? *really*?”

So: better than I expected on many levels, which probably makes the disappointing elements that much more disappointing. Still, it was worth seeing.

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