David O. Russell is officially the new man in Hollywood who can do no wrong.
The director of “Silver Linings Playbook” and “The Fighter” turns in his third winner in a row with “American Hustle,” a funny, lively and engrossing tale inspired by the Abscam scandal of the late 1970s and early ’80s.
“Inspired by” meaning that there really was an FBI sting operation that caught a senator and six congressman bribing a fake Arab sheik in New Jersey, but that most of the film has been expertly fictionalized for comic and dramatic effect.
Or, as the film warns at the very beginning: “Some of this actually happened.”
Russell, who also co-wrote the script, pieces together a brilliant cast, which he was already extremely familiar with: Amy Adams and Christian Bale from “The Fighter,” and Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro (for one scene as a Miami mobster) from “Silver Linings.”
Every one of them rewards Russell’s faith, making “American Hustle” one of the best acted films of the year.
An unrecognizable Bale — he put on 40 pounds for the role — plays Irving Rosenfeld, a flabby con man with a complicated comb-over/toupee mix perched atop his head.
Adams is Sydney Prosser, his partner, mistress and kindred spirit, an ex-stripper who uses a fake British accent to help Irving cheat desperate people out of their money, $5,000 at a time.
They’re bad people, sure, but they’re complicated, and we actually grow to like them.
Irving and Sydney are nabbed by overzealous FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper), who has something besides jail time planned. He wants to make bigger headlines, but he needs some experienced crooks to help him plan his scam.
Lawrence, bucking for another Oscar nomination, adds a wild energy to the film as Irving’s manipulative wife, Rosalyn. She may be more than a little crazy, but she won’t let Irving leave her.
Louis C.K. as Richie’s annoyed, pencil-pushing superior and Jeremy Renner, as the sympathetic mayor of Camden who gets swept up in the scam, also provide strong supporting performances.
“American Hustle” is a clever satire, with everybody conning everybody. There are moments of surprising sweetness, some surprises and extremely rich characters. Russell has made the movie feel almost like it was made in the ‘70s, not just about the ‘70s.
Whatever he wants to put on screens next year, it’s a good bet that it will be worth watching.
Rental Recommendation: Why not watch last year’s Oscar bait from Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”? Grade: A.
Email Steve Ouellette:email@example.comA "American Hustle" Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper. Rated: R (for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence). Running time: 138 minutes.