Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, David O. Russell, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper attend the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Official Academy Members screening of 'American Hustle' at the Academy Theater at Lighthouse International on December 7, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)
(USA TODAY) Every once in a while, a movie will come along that makes you sit up excitedly in your seat, eagerly anticipating its every move.
American Hustle (* * * ½ out of four; rated R; opens Friday in select cities) is just such a movie.
With one of the best ensemble casts of any film this year, it's audacious, enthralling and uproarious.
There's not much substance underlying the razzle-dazzle of this complicated caper, but viewers will be so mesmerized by the blend of brilliant acting, outlandish incidents, rousing music and well-timed humor that any deeper meanings will not be missed.
It's nearly impossible not to be drawn into the wild and woolly fictionalized portrayal of the notorious Abscam financial fraud case of the 1970s. Its dubious authenticity is succinctly captured by a caveat in the opening credits: "Some of this actually happened."
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And what didn't occur in reality came from the inventive imagination of director David O. Russell. He's a master of unconventional movies that stir the audience's fascination (think Three Kings or The Fighter). He also knows how to make a crowd-pleaser (last year's Silver Linings Playbook). Much of it has to do with spot-on casting, and several of the actors in Silver Linings and The Fighter play key roles here.
A pair of lovey-dovey con artists, a family-minded politician, an overzealous FBI agent, a fake sheik, an unpredictable scorned wife and a few nefarious mobsters all figure into the deliriously farcical mix. Paranoia strikes deep. Corruption reigns. And it's all ridiculously funny.
At times, the film rambles. When it does conclude, the ending may not completely satisfy audiences. But none of that truly mars the energetic experience of getting there.
Going back to 1996's Flirting With Disaster, Russell is at his best with freewheeling farces. He builds upon Eric Singer's screenplay with a sharp focus on personalities over plot.
While the film may invite comparisons to Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights or Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, Russell's is a singular, irrepressible and intriguingly off-kilter vision.
He has fashioned a bizarre and mesmerizing narrative of a swindler who cooperates with authorities to bait and trap politicians in an elaborate scheme centered on Atlantic City casinos.
That con man is Irving Rosenfeld, a pot-bellied, larcenous scoundrel with the worst comb-over since Bill Murray's in the 1996 film Kingpin. Christian Bale is magnificent in this richly comic role, for which he gained significant weight.
Told simply, the sting involves Rosenfeld and an FBI operative posing as an Arab sheik (Michael Peña). Masterminding much of it is another follicle-challenged fellow - FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who nightly wears a head full of curlers in the apartment he shares with his nagging mom.
The ambitious DiMaso is constantly at odds with his reasonable boss (Louis C.K.). DiMaso walks all over him - and then some.
Rosenfeld owns several dry-cleaning establishments. But his side business selling art forgeries and investments in fake companies is where his heart lies. His heart is soon also drawn to the seductive Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), his match in the art of the con. Everyone here is a master of disguise.
A classic schemer in his business dealings, Rosenfeld does have a moral code. He has a fierce love and sense of duty to the young son of his conniving wife, Rosalyn(Jennifer Lawrence). He is determined to provide for the little boy he adopted when he married Rosalyn. Lawrence is brassy, loose-lipped and riotously funny.
Jeremy Renner plays Carmine Polito, an altruistic New Jersey mayor who strikes up a friendship with the Rosenfelds and gets sucked into the Atlantic City scam. Renner - sporting a modest pompadour - is terrific as Polito, whose motto is: "All people are good. Be good to all people."
Gloriously entertaining and brimming with unbridled energy, American Hustle will make you feel like dancing.
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