Movies: "American Hustle" | Arts & Culture

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Movies: "American Hustle"
Movies: "American Hustle"

With its clever script, terrific cast and 1970s vibe, here’s a movie to put a spring in your step and a song in your heart (maybe by America or Steely Dan), even if it is all about corruption.

“Some of this really happened,” we are told at the start of the movie, which is loosely based on the Abscam scandal of 1978, even though the characters portrayed here are fictitious.  With his elaborate comb-over and bulging paunch, it’s hard to recognize Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld, a small-time New York con artist, who makes his living with a chain of dry cleaners and by selling fake or stolen art work and making empty loan payments to desperate losers at five-thou a pop.

Irving’s married to Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence, wonderful here) and has a son, but when he meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams, as good as ever), he falls head over heels and the two of them team up for a more elegant con, with her posing as a British Lady with international banking connections.

But their luck runs out when Sydney’s busted by manic FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who wants the two con artists to apply their talents to entrapping the mayor of Camden, NJ (Jeremy Renner) who is desperately trying to bankroll Atlantic City’s casinos.  The lure is an Arab sheik with bags full of money.  DiMaso’s extravagant scheme quickly runs afoul of his FBI supervisor, wonderfully played by a sympathetic Louis C.K.

Directed by David O. Russell (who has given us such winning films as “Three Kings,” “The Fighter” and “Silver LInings Playbook”), the movie was co-written by Russell and Eric Singer.  With its voice-over narrations, its period settings and its lively cast of characters, it reminded me of “Goodfellas” but with far less bloodshed.  And, like Martin Scorsese, Russell likes working with an acting ensemble:  Bale, Lawrence, Cooper and Adams have all had parts in his earlier movies.  So has Robert De Niro, who turns up here, uncredited, as a shadowy mobster from Miami.|

The cinematography is by Sweden’s Linus Sandgren and the music is by the prolific Danny Elfman, who employs a host of ‘70s (and earlier) hits, by such luminaries as Duke Ellington, the Bee Gees, Donna Summer and Paul McCartney and Wings.  Set In New York City, much of the film was actually shot in Boston, and was delayed by the marathon bombings.

“American Hustle” is rated R for adult language, sexual stuff and adult themes.  It’s another winner from David O. Russell and his acting ensemble.

I give it an A.