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David O'Russell thrills with "American Hustle"

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: David O'Russell thrills with "American Hustle"
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Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman takes a closer look at the newest film by David O'Russell, "American Hustle", and filed the following report.

David O. Russell has been making movies for two decades, but it was only last year, with Silver Linings Playbook, that he broke through to his full, true filmmaking voice. "American Hustle", Russell’s brilliant, swirling amphetamine high of a movie, makes good on that promise.

Set in the late ‘70s, it’s a movie of jaw-dropping virtuosity and pleasure, and leaves you enthralled, tickled, moved, and amazed. It’s as if the Martin Scorsese of "GoodFellas" had been revived full-throttle, only with a new subject matter: the hucksterism hiding out in the shadows of middle-class America.

The central characters are a pair of con artists who are indefensible, and also irresistible. Christian Bale, in a complex comb-over, plays Irving Rosenfeld, a pinky-ring-wearing shyster from the Bronx who operates a loan business that takes $5,000 down payments and gives nothing back. Amy Adams is Sydney, a hot number who falls for Irving at a Long Island pool party. Before long, she’s put on a fake British accent and turned herself into “Lady Edith Greensly,” a posh Londoner with banking connections. These two are small-time operators, but it’s their karma to be nabbed by a beady-eyed scrounger of an FBI agent, played by Bradley Cooper.

It’s the post-Watergate era, and the agent, rabid for a big corruption bust, coerces the two into joining a sting operation that’s just about as slovenly as their petty scams. It’s called Abscam, and it involves shady congressmen, a New Jersey mayor who wants to rebuild Atlantic City, actors pretending to be Arab sheikhs, and, of course, the Mob.

There really was an Abscam, and the thrill of "American Hustle" is that it takes the tacky desperation of this scheme and fuses it with the spirit of our own madly scrambling moment. Russell’s filmmaking fever lights up everything it touches. His pop-music cues come close to out-Scorsese-ing Scorsese, and he gets astounding performances from Adams, who is hell on wheels, and Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Irving’s manipulative wife with a crazy-sexy fury that dares to be toxic.

As for Bale, he’s fantastic as a lying sleaze with a hidden heart. Watching "American Hustle", you never know what’s coming next, and you can hardly wait to see it happen. That’s because David O. Russell has become the most exciting filmmaker in America.

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