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Superb actors play their rascally roles to the hilt in 1970s caper comedy

Do it! Do it! Do the hustle!

Do it! Do it! Do the hustle!

American Hustle
Starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence. Directed by David O. Russell. Cinemark 14. Rated R.
Rated 5.0

American Hustle is a sardonically comical caper movie, a semi-picaresque period piece set among con artists, influence peddlers, political fixers, etc., in the late 1970s. Banking scams, FBI stings, Mafia politics, governmental corruption, fashion excesses, and elaborate double-crosses all have roles to play.

It’s a beguiling tale, with a nicely timed set of surprise twists laid out along the way. But what makes this one of the best films of the year is mostly a matter of superb, beautifully directed performances from a fine cast, including especially its four leading players.

The key figures here are a sleazy entrepreneur/con man (Christian Bale), a frenetically ambitious young FBI agent (Bradley Cooper), a gifted quick-change artist (Amy Adams), and the Bale character’s hilariously erratic wife (Jennifer Lawrence). A wheeler-dealer New Jersey politician (Jeremy Renner), a perpetually flabbergasted FBI official (Louis C.K.), a much-feared Mafia titan (an un-billed Robert De Niro), and the Renner character’s mock-regal wife (Elisabeth Röhm) make particularly memorable contributions as well.

Bale is especially brilliant—giving unexpected shades of emotion and intelligence to a character who at first seems merely a mild comic grotesque. Lawrence is very funny and very persuasive with a character sometimes prone to rapid, serial identity shifts. And Adams is superb with a character who seems the wisest, quickest, saddest, most versatile and alert figure in this film’s marvelously varied bunch of shape-shifting, role-playing rascals.