That's the film's failure, because it's clear it could have been a little better—and it's no use saying that Russell was restricted by his material, given his avowed commitment to character over story. There are some terribly interesting questions about corruption and commitment and conscience and the masks (or hairdos) we make for ourselves to con ourselves into thinking we're better than we are, but they're more gestured at than explored. So though American Hustle has some very bright moments (Jennifer Lawrence cleaning her home in giant yellow rubber gloves singing "Live or Let Die" springs immediately to mind), the end result still manages to lack its potential luster.
If you like Scorcese, then you'll be okay with American Hustle; if you don't, stay away. There's plenty of bad language from the get-go, including all the usual profanities used in all the usual ways. Two female characters kiss in a rather surprising moment. There are incredibly plunging necklines throughout, along with other items of clothing that leave very little to the imagination. In a flashback, one character is shown as an exotic dancer (though she is wearing just enough to keep her from being nude). Husbands and wives and fiances are cheating all over the place and nudity is implied. Two characters almost have sex in a bathroom stall at a club, and though they don't, the people outside the stall yell things at them that imply that they do. Moments of peril are, of course, a given.
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She tweets at @alissamarie.