American Hustle is found on many 10 best lists for 2013, and won the New York Film Critic’s Circle best film award, so naturally I rushed out to see it as soon as it came to Watertown. 

 Director David O. Russell’s previous films are some of the most interesting films of the last twenty years: Silver Linings Playbook, Three Kings, The Fighter-therefore my expectations were high. There are lots of good things here, mainly the performances of the Oscar pedigreed cast, but American Hustle never grabbed me and therefore never stayed with me.  There are some amazing individual scenes that stay with you, mainly those involving the inimitable, incredible and irresistible Jennifer Lawrence. For me she is the best thing in the film and certainly worth the ticket.  However there is something just a little undercooked about this comedy/drama that prevents it from the dazzle of Russell’s other admirable work. It all seems like style (impeccable style) over substance.

 The film is inspired by real life events in 1978 that involved the bribing of politicians and officials to enable gambling in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  FBI agent (Richie DiMaso) Bradley Cooper enlists con artists played by Amy Adams (Sydney Prosser) and Christian Bale (Irving Rosenfeld) to help him nab the mayor of Camden, Carmen Polito (Jeremy Renner) and other high profile politicians. Jennifer Lawrence plays Bale’s young vulnerable and volatile wife (Rosalyn) who is much smarter than she looks. 

 My main problem with this film is that I found it very difficult to identify with or have sympathy for any of the characters except Lawrence’s Rosalyn. In an ensemble piece like this it’s important to be able understand and be invested in all the characters’ needs. There is a distant emotional tone, which is common for caper films, but I also felt as if there was a lack of suspense. 

 However, production values are great; I dig those seventies’ costumes, hair, cars and interiors.  Also, of course there is Jennifer Lawrence who infuses every scene she is in with spontaneity, vulnerability, feistiness and energy.  She is fantastic and fun.  A shot of cinematic charisma, Lawrence (23) is operating at a level of excellence that most artists don’t achieve until decades later.