Director and co-writer David O. Russell knows how to stage a scene, how to pace for laughs, and how to get out of the way of inspired performances. Russell can boast to his credit "Silver Linings Playbook," "The Fighter," and "Three Kings." He based "American Hustle," quite loosely, on the late 1970s Abscam scandal that resulted in multiple high-profile convictions for U.S. and state senators and representatives, among others.
The story goes inside its complicated operation, beginning with master manipulator, Irving Rosenfeld carefully constructing his comb over before he faces the world. As inhabited by a paunchy Christian Bale, Irving is a legend, at least in his own mind. He'll coordinate a sting operation with ambitious, eager FBI agent Richie DiMaso (a serious, superb Bradley Cooper) and his wary partner Sydney (Amy Adams showing impeccable timing in her verbal and nonverbal delivery.)
Also involved in a scheme I won't give away are New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner whose reactions steal every scene) and Irving's wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence who makes the most of every detail.) In a priceless cameo, Robert De Niro plays a mob boss and director Russell enhances the joke by having the camera swoop in on him as he stands tall and tough in shadow.
"American Hustle" is a film that has it both ways; that is, it parodies romantic entanglements and corruption stings while endorsing trust and character. I laughed out loud numerous times even as I admired the savvy art direction and musical choices. Seldom, at least recently, have songs been so well integrated into the action, including "How Do You Heal a Broken Heart" and "Live and Let Die." Cross-cutting between scenes adds another layer of commentary, and even at two hours plus, "American Hustle" kept me happily involved in its inventive trickery.
"American Hustle" has earned multiple Golden Globe nominations. Check area listings.