"Some of this actually happened" reads the intro to David O. Russell's demented, audaciously amoral homage to
hustlers, grifters and con artists.
Loosely inspired by the FBI's Abscam sting in the late 1970s, it revolves around Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale) and his brazen partner/girlfriend, Sydney (Amy Adams), who are reluctantly coerced into going undercover by ambitious agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who has anger issues.
Their assignment is to take down charming-yet-corruptible Camden, N.J., Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) by tempting him with a $2 million investment from an Arab sheik (actually a Mexican/American FBI agent played by Michael Pena) that will supposedly revive Atlantic City's resort casinos.
But what they haven't banked on is how easily Rosenfield's bitter, dim-witted wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), could botch the entire entrapment operation, particularly when Polito's Mafia pal, Victor Tellegio (Robert De Niro), gets suspicious.
Wily director Russell ("Silver Linings Playbook") fills the screen with colorful, psycho-comic complexity. Co-writing with Eric Warren Singer ("The International"), Russell has devised a cleverly comedic, character-driven thriller, augmented in great measure by Judy Becker's dazzling production design and Danny Elfman's sound track with music supervisor Susan Jacobs.
For those looking for authenticity, the Abscam scheme actually led to the bribery convictions of seven congressmen and various government officials in 1981.
Almost unrecognizable with a pot belly and combed-over toupee, Bale embodies the sleazy dry cleaner/loan shark, a minor-league manipulator who runs an art-forgery scam on the side. As seductive Sydney, who is as fraudulent as her British Lady Edith identity, Adams epitomizes eccentricity, confidently strutting in a series of cleavage-challenging costumes designed by Michael Wilkinson.
And, as passive/aggressive Rosalyn, Lawrence proves that -- in addition to her other acting attributes -- she's a terrific screwball comedienne.
FYI: If Lawrence scores an Oscar win, she will pull off a unique coup -- winning Best Actress one year and Best Supporting Actress the following year.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "American Hustle" is a tantalizing 10. It's an unexpectedly zany crowd-pleaser that's relentlessly entertaining.