I’m a big lover of David O. Russell films. His films explore realities of characters and nobody ends up the same by the end of it. They’re thoughtful and thought-provoking and fun and crazy and engaging. He always gets the best of his actors.
American Hustle, though, isn’t quite as good as his previous work.
The story is about a grifter and his girlfriend who get caught by the FBI and wrangled into a major sting of politicians and mobsters. Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld (Irv), the master grifter. Amy Adams plays his girlfriend, Sydney Prosser, who acts as Lady Greensleeve when grifting. Irv and Sydney are busted by Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). Richie forces them to help perform a sting on Atlantic City mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). When they get through to the mayor, whose main goal does seem to be helping his city, more politicians come through the door and it links to a couple of mobsters as well.
Irv also has a flamboyant sparkplug wife who he’s not particularly interested in: Rosalyn Rosenfeld (played by Jennifer Lawrence). When she’s brought into the fold against his wishes, she gets jealous at Irv and Syd’s relationship and begins playing with fire, putting the entire mission in danger and nearly killing Irv. Irv figures his way out of it, though, and etc. etc. etc.
Russell took an extraordinary amount of time to develop the characters. He’s absolutely the best in the business at this and American Hustle succeeds because of it. It doesn’t transcend into the realm of other-worldly, though, because of it.
The film itself doesn’t quite maintain its focus. If it were more character-driven, I’d expect it to be another slam dunk for Russell. It isn’t, though. As a whole, the plot wanders and misses a few major points here and there, failing to really identify what it’s about.
That’s not to say this movie isn’t good; on the contrary, it’s pretty dang good. It’s entertaining and treats us to a pretty fun, sometimes scary, ride. It’s just not one of the best movies of the year.
At the expense of the movie as a whole, Russell does get a few great performances from Jennifer Lawrence, who stole some scenes but was clearly allowed to, and Amy Adams. Adams comes off weird to some in this one because she plays a far more subdued character in an otherwise over-saturated movie. She’s, however, the best actress in the movie.
Women with low self esteem do this thing with the edges of their mouths where they’re constantly frowning. It’s pretty common among women who’ve been sexually traumatized. Adams does this throughout the movie. I’ve never seen an actress even do that before. You can even see it in her face when she’s frowning that she’s … I don’t know, there aren’t words to articulate this well enough. She’s vulnerable and afraid to be hurt again and feels like its coming. Women in these situations also tend to not want to be themselves. All of these issues, and that frown, go away when she’s Lady Greensleeve.
The best part of Adams’ role is the accent: it’s terrible, changes locales, and disappears completely when she’s pushed.
Verdict: Very good, but not great movie. Amy Adams delivers a subtly brilliant role, one deserving of Best Actress in most years.