This was requested by my wife, as part of an ongoing movie-and-dinner series we’ve been enjoying with my sister and brother-in-law.
It has been so long since my favorite David O. Russell film (Three Kings) was released, that I forget he directed it. So I came to American Hustle without too many preconceptions. For that matter, my thoughts on Jennifer Lawrence were guided in large part by her public persona, in which she shines by appearing to have no desire to concoct a Public JLaw with the usual barriers to her “real” self. In truth, up until now, the only movie of hers I had seen was Winter’s Bone. I thought that movie was so good, and I thought she was so excellent in it, that I jabbered about it all the time (remember that despite all the Oscar nominations, it only made around $14 million at the box office). I loved her before she became such a lively public presence, and a bit of the fanboy emerged as I shared the latest videos of her. Yet I never got around to seeing her movies. So one thing I am very happy to say is that Jennifer Lawrence is wonderful in American Hustle.
In fact, the acting was my favorite part of the movie. I can’t think of too many comparisons between this and Three Kings, but that film also had top-notch acting (not only was Ice Cube great, but he starred in a brief DVD extra that remains one of my all-time favorites). And the other Russell film I’ve seen, The Fighter, was dominated by great acting, with three Oscar nominations hiding the fact that the best job was done by Mark Wahlberg, who was ignored by the Academy (he was good in Three Kings, as well). Suffice to say that from my limited experience, David O. Russell draws the best out of his actors.
Which is especially good in American Hustle, where a lazy tempo made 138 minutes seem longer. I was never bored … there was always something interesting to take in … but there was often a lack of urgency, which is likely exactly what Russell wanted, but which still made the film drag a bit. (Like many others, I was reminded at times of Goodfellas. But American Hustle never rose to the heights of that movie’s best sequences.) Mostly, this is just nitpicking on my part, but it gets at why despite my enjoying American Hustle, I never thought I was watching a classic.
Also, none of these con artists were the type of charming rapscallion that makes this kind of movie fun to watch. They were more than stereotypes, in fact, which made for deeper characterization, which made for a “better” film, but which also contributed to the low-key nature of the movie’s appeal. None of which is a bad thing, and American Hustle would have been a lesser movie if it moved more closely to established genre expectations. But I have a long-standing struggle between my idea of “best” and my idea of “favorite”, and American Hustle was more “best” and less “favorite”.
Three of the primary actors deserve special mention. Jeremy Renner made his corrupt mayor seem a genuine champion of the people. Jennifer Lawrence, as mentioned, delivered on every scene she had. One point in particular stands out. I thought her character was smart, not the typical dumb blonde, but I see from reviews that many disagree with me. But then one person nailed it (I’d give a citation but I forget who it was): Lawrence played Rosalyn as someone who wasn’t as smart as she thought she was. I’m entranced enough with Lawrence that I bought into Rosalyn's self-perception, but I think that critic was right. Having said that, I’d add that Rosalyn is treated like she’s dumb, so she has a lot to overcome, and Lawrence was great at showing the character’s loose cannon nature.
Amy Adams was my favorite of them all. She played with such confidence that when she finally admitted that she was just an American girl, the insecurity behind her reinvention was heartbreaking. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how the combination of Adams’ attitude towards the world and the remarkable outfits she wore meant that the sexual electricity was hot, indeed. 8/10.
Good companion pieces would include the movies I mention above: Three Kings, Winter’s Bone, and Goodfellas. The first two are quite different from American Hustle, but I like to promote them as I believe they are underrated. And Goodfellas is quite a bit like American Hustle.