How ‘American Hustle’ Conned the Critics

Jennifer Lawrence American Hustle

REARVIEW: Critics love David O. Russell's latest. Not this critic. A second look for those who weren't taken by this sloppy comedy.

For months, the entertainment press has been writing about Martin Scorsese’s travails to bring his sprawling true-crime comedy “The Wolf of Wall Street” in by year’s end, so the film could compete in an already overcrowded Oscar derby. And while the public’s attention was thus misdirected, a far more unwieldy true-crime movie came together (or fell apart, as I see it) in relative quiet, suffering none of the bad press and escaping scot-free from the criticism that should have greeted its opening on Friday.

That movie, of course, is David O. Russell’s “American Hustle,” a collection of flamboyant 1970s caricatures run amok: so much hairspray and polyester, it makes your brain hurt — and worse, overwhelms the already overcomplicated Abscam retelling at the center of the film.

Now, if you saw and loved “American Hustle” this past weekend, I don’t mean to rain on your parade. But if you emerged flabbergasted by what you had seen, your mind thoroughly boggled by the critical response — which has been nearly unanimous in its praise of this sloppy sprawl of a movie — then rest assured, you are not alone.

“American Hustle” is a mess, and though some of its champions seem to love that most about it, the whole affair appears to have been cobbled together in haste, off-script and with little consideration for the fine art of narrative. Arriving so swiftly on the heels of the director’s similarly batty films “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” “American Hustle” inadvertently reveals Russell’s shtick, and once you spot the pattern, the jig is up.

In short, what sets Russell’s movies apart from the pack is a certain anarchic energy, a freewheeling sense that his characters could behave in spontaneous, possibly even irrational ways at any given moment. For those raised on the polite tradition of Hollywood storytelling, this relatively unruly sensibility has a tendency to delight. Frankly, it feels more like real life than the stuffy, rehearsed performances served up by other movies, in which most shots derive from the 10th or 17th or 43rd take of a scene. Russell’s characters, by contrast, are free to squawk and stammer and peacock as much as they please, providing that same illicit pleasure that has overtaken so much contemporary comedy, in which improvisation is king (for the moment, at least).

Russell’s approach works when the material in question is tight and focused, allowing the director to garnish a manageable story with as much comedic lunacy as the movie can bear. That’s why last year’s “Silver Linings Playbook” was such a delight: At the film’s core, it was a familiar, if somewhat simple-minded old-school romantic comedy, like something out of the 1940s, upon which Russell and his cast were free to go crazy.

With “Playbook,” you could hold the plot in the palm of your hand: A clinically bipolar guy (Bradley Cooper) and a hilariously uninhibited gal (Jennifer Lawrence) fall in love while rehearsing for a dance competition. Such comfortable familiarity made it possible for the movie’s true personality to emerge, as Russell let his two leads and the rest of his similarly unrestrained ensemble do loop-de-loops in character, introducing contradictions and other moments of refreshing unpredictability to the equation. The result felt spontaneous and alive, the way rowdy scenes from “The Fighter” had (although in that film, the electric energy brought by Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and the rest of their bonkers family eventually settled into a fairly routine boxing movie).

A few years back, a video of Russell sparring with actress Lily Tomlin on the set of “I Heart Huckabees” hit the Web, in which Tomlin complained about how difficult it was to deliver a performance when the director kept changing his mind. The video left the impression that Russell was difficult to work with, while his oeuvre, beginning with the semi-autobiographical incest comedy “Spanking the Monkey” and the no-less-dysfunctional family portrait “Flirting With Disaster,” hinted that the director himself might be mentally unwell, the way certain impressionistic paintings — by Goya, Van Gogh or Munch — give viewers the sense of being trapped inside the head of a crazy person.

The cast of “American Hustle,” by contrast, reveals that certain actors love working with Russell, who lets them go nuts the way no other director does. The “Hustle” ensemble consists mostly of repeat players, combining as it does the casts of “Playbook” and “The Fighter”: Bale, Cooper, Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Amy Adams (whose fiery character is the only one I found remotely identifiable, and yet whose performance — which feels like it should be at the center of the action — seems to have been significantly reduced in the cutting room). From the look of things, these four have been invited to an unruly improv party, but instead of adding to a coherent plot, their performances threaten to run away with the movie.

I saw “American Hustle” on the morning of Dec. 3, as the New York Film Critics Circle were voting on their year-end prizes. As I entered the theater, the film had already won the group’s screenplay prize. (What screenplay? The cast seems to be operating off-book for most of the film.) By the time I emerged a taxing 138 minutes later, “Hustle” had also claimed their best picture award, plus a supporting actress win for Lawrence, who has one great scene (over lunch with Jack Huston), one truly bad scene (singing “Live and Let Die” in her living room) and otherwise seems to be making things up as she goes along.

How has “Hustle” conned so many intelligent people into declaring it a masterpiece? This is a messy C-minus movie at best, one that makes Michael Bay’s “Pain & Gain” look downright disciplined by comparison. And yet, building as it does on Russell’s recent hot streak and a dynamic combination of actors in their prime, the film seemed uniquely situated for a positive critical reception. In the official Variety review, my colleague Justin Chang affectionately referred to the film’s narrative fumblings as “a shaggy, meandering journey,” forgiving its many loose ends and aborted tangents, while others liken it to jazz, that musical style where making it up as you go along is considered a virtue.

Critics have also lavished praise on the film’s costume and wig departments, which trowel the ’70s kitsch on thick as the soundtrack does its period tunes. But just how great are all those plunging necklines and feathered hairstyles if they risk overtaking everything else onscreen, forcing the actors to compete with their own wardrobes? The best example is Bale’s unruly comb-over, which becomes the subject of the first scene and serves as a fitting metaphor for all the false appearances that follow, yet threatens to upstage his actorly grandstanding at every turn.

Meanwhile, is no one else bothered by the way Russell’s film treats its women, seen either as sex objects (in cleavage-baring outfits) or harpies (when they dare question their men)? Once again, the director invites his characters to behave unpredictably, but when it’s a woman who does so, she’s portrayed as a life-wrecking monster. Let’s not forget that one of the film’s more significant subplots asks audiences to root for a criminal (Bale) as he tries to wrest custody of his adopted son away from its unhinged yet law-abiding mother (Lawrence). Granted, one doesn’t look to a film like “American Hustle” for moral guidance. If anything, the film suggests that in the real world, good guys and bad guys alike are corrupt, and the only thing worth fighting for is love. But is a modicum of discipline — the sense that the filmmaker knows what he’s doing, as opposed to cobbling a movie together from what feels like outtakes — too much to ask?

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  1. Antoinette says:

    Someone needs to be enrolled in jelly school.

  2. Dave ATX says:

    Agree 100% with the review – after attending the movie on the strength of what seemed like almost unanimous praise from critics who should know better, I left the theatre wondering what planet they lived on. One critic said the movie was “riotously funny” – um, huh? In my full theatre, i don’t recall ANY huge laughs at any point in the movie. A few titters here and there and that was it. A comedy this is NOT. So what is it? Is it about the Abscam scandal of the 70’s? Only on the wide margins. Given the lead characters are con artists, it a caper movie with a big score at the end? No, it’s not really that either. So what is it? I felt like it was one of the worst kinds of movies….one where the director and actors involved purposely tried to interject over-the-top performances and stylistic devices for the sole purpose of appealing to hoidy-toidy movie critics who tend to fall for that kind of thing. I personally don’t care that Christian Bale is willing to gain 40 pounds and wear a comb-over for a role, nor do I care that Jennifer Lawrence can put out a mediocre New Jersey accent. And having lived through the seventies, I can honestly say I never, EVER saw a woman in public with her boobs hanging halfway out of her blouse on purpose, no matter how progressive she might have been. The move is an absolute cluttered mess that tries way too hard to impress. Don’t waste your money.

    • M&M says:

      “And having lived through the seventies, I can honestly say I never, EVER saw a woman in public with her boobs hanging halfway out of her blouse on purpose, no matter how progressive she might have been.”
      I’m sorry but this movie was based on your personal experience. Get over yourself.

    • RG says:

      I Lived through the seventies too (and the sixties) but what difference does it make that you didn’t ever witness women with boobs hanging out? This one did, This unique character, thats all you need to know. Shouldn’t be about how all women should be depicted, it’s about this character, thats what gives her her personality. Forget the stereotypes, isn’t that what we did with the Stepford wives? Aren’t we supposed to treat women as individuals?

  3. Ken says:

    It’s not the most tightly made film I’ve ever seen, but the acting is fantastic. You left out mentioning an amazingly grounded performance by Renner, who plays a necessary straight man. Louis CK also serves as a straight man. The appearance of these two gents demonstrates to committment to calibrating the comedy. It’s not at all off excessively frivolous, as you suggest. And the story, as somewhat dense at it is, is very responsibly laid out. And, the costumes do add a tremendous amount of artistry and fun. As I said, not a perfect movie, but definitely worth the many praises that it’s receiving.

  4. Paul Rux says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. By the way just saw Wolf On Wall Street, I LOVED IT!!

  5. Julianna says:

    You are smart enough to know the directors work… He’s about characters, not story. If you don’t like your movies to be character driven, this director is not for you. I happen to love this and all of his movies…

  6. Paul Mackie says:

    I just read this review after writing my own eerily similar review on my website. Very well put. I feel a little cheated.

  7. I like your take on the film…because I felt it was convoluted like a jazz performance, and yet entertaining as long as I had the energy to hang in there til the end. I think the whole thing is a satire about the American Israeli issue…is anyone else getting this? The point about Dwayne Dyer mixed in there as an error in time is one subtle clue. The other is that UAE was not an oil player in the 70s like other Arab regions…perhaps an on-purpose error in order to relate to audiences. I see the message of the film as ultimately a nod to the survivalist state of Israel, echoed in the concept of Bale’s character who was forced to get into deals with the American government in order to keep his freedom. Furthermore, we can see the ultimate message of the film is a commentary about the conflict of Israeli loyalty to the US (Lawrence’s character representing the passive aggressive US) vs loyalty to Israel (or the dream of feeling at home with Adams’ character) and the pursuit of authenticity. And don’t forget how Cooper’s character pretends to screw his boss in the ass….like the US government screws the American people.

    • Sandy says:

      How dare you reference jazz performances as “convoluted”. Jazz is a sacred American creation, one of our best. Duke Ellington, need I say more. You’re absolutely wrong.

  8. cjsk says:

    Excellent review! Hustle conned me out of three hours of my life. AWFUL.

  9. BR122 says:

    This movie was AWFUL! I just kept praying it was actually going to come together or go somewhere interesting, but it was just a waste of time in the end. Absolutely terrible, and I’m happy to see that I’m not the only one who thought so.

  10. pittsburgh matt says:

    I walked out at the 1 hour 4 minute mark. I could take no more punishment. At least now I can disregard all the critics that raved about this when looking at future movies.

  11. Harry Bliss says:

    Thank God my editor told me to read this review. I’d seen the film and walked out after an hour and a half – cannot believe the praise this film is getting by ‘critics’…

  12. Rich Miller says:

    Thank you for your honesty, lacking it seems by many other critics. Went last night with a group and the movie went 0-4. The bombastic reviews for this movie created our interest in watching it only to be majorly disappointed by the movie. There were some singular excellent performances. Christian Bale, good chance of an Oscar nomination, his character is very believable. Jeremy Renner, a maybe nomination as a supporting actor. The popcorn was quite tasty so few complaints, I guess.

  13. Henry Georget says:

    And in closing, I do not think that critical acclaim and box office success are enough to make a movie great, or even good. Personally, I think that “Avatar” was a glorified “Dances with Smurfs”. It did keep me entertained, though

  14. Henry Georget says:

    At no point while watching was I confused, lost, or did not understand what was happening. This was not “The Spanish Prisoner” or “The Game”. Again, fairly linear and straightforward storytelling

  15. Henry Georget says:

    As for the actual review of the movie, it is one thing to like or dislike a movie, quite another to analyze its plot, photography, acting, direction, etc.

    To say that the movie has a confusing plot or no plot is demonstrably false. It is a mostly linear story told by its protagonist, Irving Rosenfeld. It has two important flashbacks, at the beginning and at the end. The first to establish who the protagonist is, as well as his love interest, Sydney Prosser, and their relationship. The second on how they outwitted the FBI and managed to achieve some sort of “justice” for themselves as well as for Polito.

    To say that the actors improvisations are purposeless and chaotic is also false. At no point do they act out of character or say or do things that do not advance the plot towards its conclusion.

    As for the costumes, wigs, and music, I found that they were not over the top. Melvin Weinberg, on whom the character Rosenfeld was based, did wear a wig, was overweight, and was extremely self-conscious about his appearance. He was also a charmer, in spite of his looks.

    So women in the 70s were sex-objects? Thanks, Mr. Debruge, you have discovered lukewarm water? What else is left of the criticism? Ummm, nothing. So, Mr. Debruge, you are free to like or dislike a specific movie, even “American Hustle”, just try to find better rationalizations for your antipathy.

    • Kim says:

      Amen! While not the best movie, it was enjoyable! And the sexist claims are baffling, especially as a staunch feminist. these women played on their sexuality in a way that was not only true of the time period but also as a method of survival. There’s nothing anti-woman about that. This story takes place at a time when women were still relegated to teachers, secretaries, nurses and, well, housewives – the state of American thinking and freedom was accurately depicted in these women, so if you need to be possed about that, realize it’s the society you live(d) in, and not David O Russell.

  16. thomas oliver says:

    Thank you for restoring my equilibrium. Emerging from the theater, my wife and I expressed out complete befuddlement at what we’d just seen. What was it? I came home and read some reviews and was further discombobulated that the majority of the critics loved it.
    I still don’t get why they loved it, but at least one critic writing for an industry publication has the audacity to say clearly the emperor is bare-ass naked.

  17. Henry Georget says:

    Stick to film criticism. Munch and Goya impressionistic? Please

  18. Danielle says:

    This is one of the DUMBEST MOVIE REVIEWS I HAVE EVER READ! I have realized in the past few years, especially, that reviewers are often dumb and do not have good taste. When I say “dumb,” I do not mean they cannot compose a sentence or that they do not know their history. What I mean is that they pander to their friends’ egos and give a glowing review to something not so good. I guess some people would say that they are being smart because they are being politically correct or polite, but I disagree. Reviews in major publications, like this one here in Variety on “American Hustle” are, at times, foolish or uninformed or overly or under critical. This writer obviously does not understand certain types of characters. He calls the characters in this film cartoons whose hair and costumes take away from the film. Does he know anything about New York in the 70s or 80s or the types of people being portrayed in this film? I’m not particularly proud to say this (because I don’t really like Staten Island), but I grew up in an Italian American neighborhood in the early 80s (I was born in 1978) and most of the people I knew were like the characters in this movie. The overblown clothes and hair and makeup and the way the characters focus on these things are REALISTIC FOR THE TIME AND CULTURE. I knew guys who had comb-overs like the one on Christian Bale who were obviously obsessed with their images. This movie was AMAZING ON SO MANY LEVELS and SPOT ON in terms of realism. It was very realistic. And, this ass of a critic can’t even get the themes right. Yes, it was about corruption and love. But, the moral of the story was not that love is the only thing that matters. The whole reason the movie was great because it was about how the law is often or usually unfair to people with good intentions and that intention is what matters, not whether you are following the law or not. That is what this movie was about. It had great philosophical themes and was very complex in its characterizations. People are not being fooled, as he stupidly says. It was a great film and people are responding accordingly. Plus, how old is this asshole reviewer? Does he know anything about how these types of women were treated or how they acted in these parts of New York and New Jersey in this era and among these classes? He is RETARDED. He knows nothing about people here. I had lots of family members and family friends who were almost exactly similar to the women in this film. Women of certain classes did not act like Eleanor Roosevelt or Jackie O, nor were they treated like ladies. Watch Saturday Night Fever, that is also accurate. This reviewer is actually the fool, not the audiences, as he says. He should NOT be writing for Variety. He is too dumb for this job, obviously. When I saw “American Hustle” almost every person in the theater on the Upper West Side clapped at the end. This movie is a classic. And, the acting was superb. Also, this reviewer says that the Jennifer Lawrence singing scene is the worst in the movie. It was not the best scene, but it was VERY REALISTIC AND ACTUALLY A GOOD SCENE BECAUSE IT REFLECTS ON HER CHARACTER AND PERSONALITY. This reviewer should NOT be talking about this film AT ALL. Plus, the movie did not look like all outtakes. It looked good. It was not “sloppy.” It was one of the best films I have ever seen.

  19. MickeyMacD says:

    Opinions are opinions, but a film critic should know a little something about structure, pacing, and screenplays in general before commenting that these are the reasons for the movies weak points. They are not. I can accept that he didn’t like it. If what was perceived as a mess, I saw as type of pacing that mirrored the story and the decade. I thought it was a really fun film, which we haven’t see in a while (since Boogie Nights, Goodfellas, Casino). Maybe not completely original. But enough time has passed since those movies have been made. So it was a lot of fun. But not the “mess” everyone on here is suggesting. In the opinion of somebody who has studied film (which not one film critic these days can say that) this is film is quite accomplished, but that doesn’t mean everyone will leave the film pleased. And that usually comes down to either it didn’t live up to what they’re used to or what they were hoping for.

  20. sharkbjs says:

    I exited the theater last night with the same exact thoughts that were written by Peter Debruge. I wasn’t even aware of this article until I told a friend of mine what I thought of the film and he asked if I had read this and said I wasn’t aware of it. He sent it to me and I feel as if I could’ve written this article. To my eyes and ears, “American Hustle,” is the most overrated film of 2013…so far. I have yet to see about three films that haven’t been released yet.

  21. david vick says:

    “American Hustle” is great entertainment. What’s corrupt about that? What it lacks in polish is made up for with pacing, terrific visual jokes -70s mockery really – and an absorbing ensemble cast obviously enjoying themselves.
    Your review is more accusation than actual criticism. Take a laxative, you’ll feel better.

  22. I haven’t seen this, but I admit – the trailers, and the pedigreed stable of actors have tickled my fancy enough to foster a desire to go watch it. Thank you for this article, to put things into perspective, and to give an alternate viewpoint to the overwhelmingly positive and persuasive voices supporting it.

  23. Samantha R. says:

    I could not agree more. What a waste of 2.5 hours of my time and $6.50.

  24. John Dions says:

    O’Russell is a hack in my view. ‘The Fighter’ was a terribly awkward mix of a cliched inspiration sports drama and an almost British kind of social realism that didn’t work at all. Most knowledgeable film buffs i know absolutely hated it, so it surprised us that critics enjoyed it so much.

    O’Russell isn’t Cassavetes, so he needs to check his tendency towards ‘improvisation’ at the door.

  25. Kristine says:

    Beyond disappointed in this film and the performance ( or lack of) by Jennifer Lawrence.

  26. George Anton says:

    American Hustle (2013) World Premiere – Tomorrow December 20th, ONLY on Anton Pictures YouTube Channel: http://youtu.be/c6PxJfZ1QoE

  27. Ammar Tariq says:

    The thing that really kills me every time I read about it is the Oscar they wasted on this actress that I like to call a Virgin in The Performing Arts: Jennifer Lawrence who is, as Mr. Debruge said about the movie “Playbook” as a very cliche plot.

  28. Kristen says:

    100% agree with this review – messy, uneven, too long, some pretty bad acting (looking at you cooper) and inconsistent. Honestly if you took away the 70’s costumes no one would be saying this is a fantastic film. It’s an ordinary film in a great one’s clothing.

    • Kristen says:

      Also love everyone getting all butthurt over a negative review of a film they like – wahhh you dislike something I like, you must be a talentless loser. Hahaha.

  29. John Brennick says:

    Loser.

  30. Kelly says:

    American hustle is a complete charade being hyped up by the critics reviews on how amazing the movie is, is almost comical! All the critics care about is the fact that the film is lead by extremely popular and outstanding actors! Which they indeed are. Apart from this horrendously boring movie! With such badly made storyline! Where exactly is the storyline in this movie? Cause as I sat in the movie theater, completely filled with utter borden! ZZZZ’s were in order!

  31. Kell Cramer says:

    There’s nothing wrong with disliking the film or disliking the directors style and stating it. But really was it necessary to bring up personal issues regarding the director? It actually discredits the reviewer at least for me it did.

  32. I havent seen the film so I can’t say if I agree or not. But I think this is a well written article about a minority opinion on a film’s level of entertainment value/craft. Nothing wrong with that. This doesn’t feel like some negative articles that just want to stand out and voice a “troll” like opinion. He even states that he likes Russell’s previous films so he’s obviously not a hater. Whether his opinion is one I’ll ultimately agree or disagree with I can’t wait to see the film.

  33. drake says:

    i mean everyone is entitled to their opinion but this is why you go to like metacritic so it weeds out the outliers like this review. the film has an 89/100 as a consensus score. its universal praise. it tells you its debruge that’s off here. the film is excellent and has been justifiably praised as such. if you look hard enough you can find negative reviews of “the godfather” or any film. if you look hard enough you can find positive reviews terrible films like “grown ups 2” or something.

    • John Dions says:

      Most critics are middle of the road hacks anyway, so who cares what they have to say in the ‘aggregate’? Most great artistic films were bashed by critics on release. Critics are lazy, bottom line. If something appears to be slightly different or more sophisticated than the norm, the tendency is for critics to go overboard with praise, especially if it’s middle of the road, like the films of David O’Russell.

      Most critics went nuts over ‘The King’s Speech’, which is essentially The Karate Kid with British royalty.

  34. LJ Matt says:

    Critics aren’t suppose to like everything they see. They’re not suppose to hate everything either. The author of this article is doing what he’s been hired to do, that is to critique. Agree or disagree he is doing his job and reporting on his observations. To get upset and indignant over one man’s opinion (one he is qualified to make and is again being paid for) is ridiculous.

  35. Beth Phillips says:

    BEST MOVIE OF THE YEAR and what have YOU directed lately? Oh wait, you don’t actually MAKE films you just criticize those who do. And, you don’t do THAT very well either. Bitter much?

    • Matt says:

      Uhh, it’s actually kind of his job to express how he feels about a film. Obviously he isn’t a director because that’s not his job. I don’t understand your comment whatsoever (its unnecessary). If you dont agree with his opinion thats fine but your job isn’t to review movies, it’s his ACTUAL job. God forbid someone has an opinion that isn’t your own. Get off your high horse.

      And for the record, I think he’s pretty spot on with this review. But maybe I shouldn’t say that for fear of it going against your opinion?….

      oh and “bitter much”? …try and not show your age next time.

      • jmcbell says:

        I couldn’t agree with you more. I saw it Christmas eve. I wished I hadn’t wasted my time or money. Awful. Sometimes I think people like a movie just because they think they’re supposed to. And not understanding it makes them be able to scoff at those who also don’t understand. I’m so glad others didn’t like it either.

  36. David says:

    More often than not, if the critic consensus is that a production – movie, television, etc., has less than average value then I will enjoy it. While this may reflect on my lack of artistic ability, I pay for my ticket or buy the DVD. The critic may not. So, whose vote at the B.O. counts the most?

  37. mackeral1964 says:

    Haven’t seen the film and I can see that this is a weak, generic, template style, Mad-Libs inspired takedown. Swap out details specific to the film and it’s any rant against any critically acclaimed film, or filmmaker. The worst kind of click-through journalism.

    • Shelly says:

      You haven’t seen the film, therefore you have no place to voice your opinion.

      • mackeral1964 says:

        Voiced my opinion on the opinion itself; it reads the same as any number of other opinions that lead with “I can’t believe so many people like this!”

  38. BC says:

    Yes! Finally someone gets it right. Horrible, meandering, way-too-long bloated crappy film. Thank you Mr. Debruge!

  39. Truth says:

    I commend Mr. DeBruge for having the courage to speak (or write) his mind on a topic that is sure to generate some heat. To critique a film that is being heaped with praise and awards is a very, very difficult thing to do in the entertainment community. The irony, of course, is that those in “entertainment” are supposed to be creative, yet group-think and lack of independent thought in this field are as pervasive as in a cult group.

    The problem with cinema is that it is a subjective medium. It’s not math, where 1+1=2. Due to this, it is important that differing voices are expressed, especially on these so-called “best picture of the year” contenders.

    It’s interesting how many comments there are for this article, whereas an article praising a film (that everybody has gushed over and praised already) will get next to no comments. Learn something from this Variety – be harsh and don’t bow to the demands of others! Continue on Mr. DeBruge – and if Variety needs some help with a well needed critique of Hollywood, feel free to contact me. You have my info.

    Much love,
    Truth

  40. Sweet Bain says:

    It seems as though the reviewer felt the same way about this film that I felt about Silver Linings. Didn’t much care for that one for the same reasons he loved it.
    In a way, it’s refreshing to read a review that pushes so hard against the, nearly unanimous, praise that’s been heaped on this project. Contrary to what many commenters have said, I think the reviewer made his point clearly and provided sufficient back up for his assertions. that said, it also seems as though this is the very same argument that might have been leveled against Goddard, Truffaut or any of the other New Wave standard bearers who bucked narrative conventions to rescue film from the prison of Hollywood formula. And, last but not least: David O Russel may be as mad as a house on fire, but A) just as the the reviewer pointed out, isn’t that true of a great many artist. B) who really gives a @@#$#$ if he’s crazy or not. Making messy masterpieces beats the heck of barking at cars while hoarding firearms and jars of urine, right?

  41. Frank W says:

    I read a book about ABSCAM about 15 years ago and I don’t recall anything like I see shown in the commercials happening.

  42. Dec 17 Peter Debruge does like this whole movie or the work of the film director. I noticed that Jennifer Lawrence is in it. Thus, looks good to me. JOHN LONGENECKER, Director / Cinematographer – Academy Award Winner. So there, Peter Debrudge.

  43. Dannyboy says:

    Such pugilistic journalism, yet no comprehensive argument what so ever. And you poke at O’Russell’s sanity? Poor, Peter. What did David do to you? It’s ok. You can tell me.

  44. chris says:

    I didn’t have a class with Debruge before he left Chapman, and i heard a lot of good things, but I’m sorry…this is a worthless bit of journalism and a terrible article.

    He makes these vague and mean-spirited comments about the film over and over but never actually goes into any detail about why the film didn’t work. It almost sounds like he didn’t see it.

    He talks about this film, and even Russell himself, as a product of some kind of formula to be exposed and ridiculed rather than its own singular work, as if that is some sort of final judgment on Russell’s eligibility to be his own artist.

    Movie critics who act like this are useless. I havent seen it, and this “review” actually makes me want to see it even more just to spite him.

    • Dannyboy says:

      Such pugilistic journalism, yet no comprehensive argument what so ever. And you poke at O’Russell’s sanity? Poor, Peter. What did David do to you? It’s ok. You can tell me.

  45. harry georgatos says:

    Cinema is a subjective experience for audiences and critics. There’s always a discerning opinion. This reviewer is neither right or wrong it’s just his personal opinion.

  46. Russel says:

    Wait, Jennifer Lawrence is an actor? When did that happen? Let me guess she plays a scrappy tough girl with attitude. Oh wait that was Winter’s Bone or was that Silver Linings Playbook? Oh no, that was Hunger Games right? She’s so diverse I can’t keep her characters straight.

    • Omg. I’m sorry but…no. Her character in Silver Linings Playbook is not like her character in Hunger Games or Winter’s Bone. Are you serious right now? And yes, Katniss has similarities to her character in Winter’s Bone, which is why they cast her! But you lost credibility when you actually try to compare Winter’s Bone/Hunger Games character to Silver Linings Playbook. They have nothing in common.

  47. meh says:

    First and foremost, the speculations about Russell’s mental health are completely inappropriate. This piece would have been much better without this section.
    Second, if so many intelligent people (including your Variety colleagues) loved this movie, there’s two options here. Either everyone but you is stupid or blind or is ‘being conned’, or maybe, just maybe, they’re getting something out of it that you’re not. It’s okay to have a different opinion. It’s less okay to assume that you’re the only one capable of seeing The Truth, especially when said truth is a question of taste. There’s something incredibly arrogant about the position you’re taking here.

    Saying ‘I didn’t like the movie’ is good enough. Looking for pseudo-objective reasons why doesn’t help your case, only hurts it. Opinions are opinions and people are entitled to them.

  48. Kell Cramer says:

    Why bring up O. Russell’s past issues? Was that really necessary and did you bring up the fact Lily Tomlin has forgiven him and stated on record that she would love to work with him again? No, of course not. You seem to have a problem with this director and since you do, your review is tainted. And of course, say something about one of the most popular actresses on the planet, so people will read your article.

  49. Sandra says:

    This is a brilliant article! I first came across it on yahoo’s welcome page.. but now, somehow, it is nowhere to be found on yahoo. WHO THE HELL is paying/in charge of the articles that are allowed to get put up? I dont know why this is boiling my blood so bad, but it is… partly due to the fact i think jennifer lawrance is the real con artist here.. conning everyone into thinking she is a good actress. SHE IS NOT. She is always just playing herself, and has no filters so is outspoken and not shy on camera, which is what people are mistaking for brilliance. That aside, I saw american hustle and was flabbergasted and let down in a major way, but when i saw all the rave reviews, i was so curious if people saw the same movie that i watched? Or better yet, if they are just being payed off to post these articles. Peter, thank you for the best review on the film i have read yet.

  50. Varol says:

    The comments speak volumes about our society..when “important people” tell you something is good it must be good..20 minutes of lois ck is 10 times more intelligent and worthy than this useless piece of crap..directer of american hustle is a joke!!!

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