Review: Exhilarating 'American Hustle' makes all the right moves

Jennifer Lawrence, left, and Amy Adams star in “American Hustle.”

Photo by Francois Duhamel, © 2013 Annapurna Productions LLC All Rights Reserved.

Jennifer Lawrence, left, and Amy Adams star in “American Hustle.”

The film tells the story of brilliant con man Irving Rosenfeld, who along with his equally cunning and seductive British partner Sydney Prosser is forced ...

Rating: R for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence

Length: 129 minutes

Released: December 13, 2013 Limited

Cast: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence

Director: David O. Russell

Writer: Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell

More info and showtimes »

It took 40 years, but we’ve finally gotten the sequel to “The Sting” that we always wanted. Thank you, David O. Russell.

Like George Roy Hill’s “The Sting,” director Russell’s “American Hustle” is about the Great American Con. The heroes are criminals, and the villains are lawmen and public officials, so we cheer the con artists and jeer the erstwhile upstanding citizens.

Instead of 1930s Chicago, “American Hustle” takes place in 1970s New York and New Jersey. Plenty of gambles are made, but it’s not a film about gambling. This is an exuberantly choreographed, exciting game of misdirection and larceny loosely based on an all-too-real scandal.

Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) owns a chain of dry-cleaning stores and a window-repair company, but his real money comes from an assortment of illegitimate enterprises. Irving is great at reading people, and he knows what buttons to push to flip the cards in his favor.

Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) has been on her own for a long time, living one lie after another to get where she wants. When she and Irving meet at a party, they bond over Duke Ellington and their realization that they are two peas in a pod. Sydney adopts a British accent and a posh name to go with it, and the pair’s bogus deals accelerate.

Everything is going well until Sydney hooks Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who turns out to be an undercover FBI agent. Richie coerces Irving and Sydney into running some cons for the bureau. As their schemes widen to include the mob and elected officials, Irving and Sydney worry that the hyperactive Richie is rolling the dice on their lives.

A good con movie is a lot of fun, and “American Hustle” holds up that end. The script by Russell and Eric Singer offers several levels of comedy, from smart dialogue to droll situations to visual absurdities (made almost too easy by the 1970s setting).

The humor is balanced by drama that doesn’t shy away from the cost of Irving’s shady existence. His obsession with Sydney is palpable, yet he’s a married man who adores his stepson. His young and beautiful wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), isn’t happy that her husband is cheating on her, so she is becoming a threat.

Sydney’s elaborately constructed masks are becoming too cumbersome for her to continue. She longs for something real, but it’s hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t with this crew.

Richie’s childish pleasure over his transformation from FBI functionary to special agent in charge of making waves is understandable but frightening. Ambition can be a good thing, but it’s important to keep it in perspective.

The performances are excellent throughout. Bale’s paunchy, follicly challenged Irving, Adams’ seductive yet vulnerable Sydney, Cooper’s overeager Richie and Lawrence’s emotionally scattered Rosalyn are mesmerizing, and when the camera veers away from them to focus on Jeremy Renner as a popular politician, Louis CK as Richie’s cautious boss or Robert De Niro as an ominous mob figure, there’s zero loss of intensity.

Aside from voiceover that can seem redundant and a soundtrack that’s sometimes too on the nose, “American Hustle” doesn’t miss a step. Love trumps greed — ’nuff said.

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