How can a 23-year-old actress be this good? Jennifer Lawrence isn’t one of the protagonists of David O. Russell’s American Hustle (she plays the wife of the protagonist), but her performance is jaw-dropping and worth the price of admission. Lawrence has delivered one flawless performance after another in her brief career and has already achieved greatness as an actor. The other actors in the film aren’t exactly slouches either. Christian Bale’s performance in the lead role is almost as good as Lawrence’s.
Aside from the awesome acting, however, American Hustle did not, for me, live up to its hype. This film about two small-time con artists (Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, played by Bale and Amy Adams) in the 1970’s who get caught by an FBI agent (Richie DiMaso, played by Bradley Cooper) and are forced into an FBI con-game, is certainly entertaining. The dark comedy that underlies the film is often hilarious. The problem is that American Hustle is categorized primarily as a drama and thriller, not a comedy. As a drama, the frenetic madness of the plot and characters doesn’t quite work for me.
As I watched American Hustle, the word that kept coming to me was not “Wow!” but “odd”. This is a decidedly odd film. At a certain level, I can enjoy that oddness and the masterful performances and say that I loved this film. But at another level, I felt cheated. That’s because the ‘drama’ didn’t quite work for me (the characters were too crazy) and because (I must confess) I guessed the surprise ending halfway through the film. I mean, come on, if you’re watching a film about con artists, you are going to expect a con, so my mind is always trying to figure out what’s really going on. David Mamet is the master at writing a screenplay that keeps you guessing until the end in spite of those expectations. Unfortunately, American Hustle wasn’t written by Mamet.
Which is not to say that Russell is an inferior writer/director. On the contrary, I have loved all of his films (most have either been in my top ten or almost there). And, like I said, I kinda loved this one too. Just not enough to give it four stars and put it into my top ten, as I might have expected from the reviews of the major critics. I was hoping for something more profound. But American Hustle still gets a solid ***+. My mug is up.