ImageDirector David O. Russell brings a sense of undeniable fun to the holiday movie-going season with American Hustle, a film that is (sort-of) based on the FBI ABSCAM case of the 1970s. Viewers looking for a serious, by-the-numbers historical drama should look elsewhere; this film is less about the story and more about Russell and the incredible cast that he has assembled. Despite a few minor hiccups in the narrative, the rest of the film is pure, unadulterated cinematic ecstasy.

Christian Bale stars as Irving Rosenfeld, a suave and intelligent con artist. At a party, he meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) and the two immediately fall head over heels in love with each other. Rosenfeld eventually tells her how he makes a living and, to his delight, she wants in. Prosser adopts an English accent to convince people that she has Royal banking connections and the two of them work together, taking money from gullible investors. Everything is fine, until they are busted by a group of FBI agents led by Richard DiMasso (Bradley Cooper). But, luckily, DiMasso gives them a deal: he will grant them immunity if they go undercover and help bring down four major cases. The cases eventually lead them to a group of corrupt politicians, led by Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). All seems to be going well, until Rosenfeld’s wife (Jennifer Lawrence) comes in and threatens to spoil the entire operation.

Having rewritten the script that was originally penned by Eric Warren Singer, Russell gives a tongue-in-cheek treatment to what could have otherwise been an overly serious film. His past two films (The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook) were both Oscar nominated, but Hustle is easily his best work thus far. He’s a director, working at the top of his game, who refuses to hold anything back. His constant use of tracking shots gives the film a heightened sense of energy. This is a film that greatly benefits from the time period that it takes place in. Yes, there’s even a disco scene.

But the aspect of this film that is going to really get people talking is the cast. Christian Bale has, yet again, transformed himself to suit his performance. Even with a large gut and a laughably bad comb over, Bale remains quite the charmer and he gives us a reason to sympathize with a scumbag criminal. Amy Adams gives one of her fiercest and most unrestrained performances to date as Sydney Prosser. Prosser is a New Mexico native who fakes an English accent for the majority of the film and Adams is so convincing in the role that viewers will have to remind themselves that her character is not actually from Great Britain. Bradley Cooper is hilarious as estranged FBI agent Richard DiMasso and Jeremy Renner wonderfully portrays Mayor Carmine Polito as a good guy who has simply gotten mixed up in something bigger than he is. Despite all of these great performances, it is ultimately Jennifer Lawrence who ends up stealing the show. As Rosalyn Rosenfeld, Lawrence adopts a fierce east coast accent and completely plays against type. She’s a train wreck of a character who can barely take care of herself, let alone her young son. Lawrence is screamingly funny in the part, chewing up every scene she is given, but never going too far over the top.

The film takes a little while to fully hit its stride and there are a few plot points in the film’s third act that feel overly convenient, but the story is not what is on display here. David O. Russell is asking viewers to take a trip back to the 70s and enjoy the party. The goofy hairstyles and the use of slow motion shots should feel cheesy, but, for some reason, everything works. With a smart sense of humor and a catchy soundtrack of classic 70s tunes, American Hustle is one party that viewers do not want to miss out on.

American Hustle receives 3.5/4

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