You’ll want to love Irving (Christian Bale), the half-smart schmo first seen finessing an elaborately glued comb-over in the mirror—and you’ll hate Richie (Bradley Cooper), the aggro Fed who, with a flick of his hand, ruins it. These are but initial impressions: American Hustle, a dynamite crime comedy and identity meltdown that can rekindle one’s faith in movies, will no doubt jostle allegiances like tourists in the back of a cab. There’s still the matter of Sydney (Amy Adams)—or maybe she’s Lady Edith Greensly, a British financier clad in plunging ’70s couture.
All of them are in on a grift (and a love triangle) that takes them from the storage space of a dry cleaner to the undulating dance floor of Studio 54, and even the hotel-room buggings of the Abscam sting. The scope of the script (by Eric Warren Singer and director David O. Russell) is amazingly wide for what always felt like a grubby chapter of post-Watergate malfeasance. But Russell has figured out how to make his performers fly—the actors are all playing actors, basically—and he’s brought back his original neuroticism to boot.
Does American Hustle have heart—does it have importance? Such naive questions: It has Jennifer Lawrence blowing up a microwave. When Hollywood is made to go blazingly fast like this, it’s a felony to complain.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf