Director David O Russell's delicious con-fection is powered by Christian Bale and Amy Adams as a pair of passionate partners in crime whose scamming skills are harnessed by Bradley Cooper's permed FBI agent. However, what starts out as a strictly criminal business is complicated when eyes begin roving and what starts out as the simple entrapment of local politicians expands to snare the Mob. Boasting a gorgeous retro Seventies look and a superb soundtrack, this is Russell's most accomplished film yet. Do the hustle.
David O Russell
Robert De Niro
Director David O Russell's unerring ability to take the careworn components of a story and fashion them into something unique and poignant reaches its peak with an exuberant caper that satisfies across the board - from love story to switch-backing crime yarn.
Small-time New York scammer Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) dreams of the big time when he meets seductive con woman Sydney Prosser (Adams) - his prospective "partner in love...and commerce."
Dabbling in stolen art to supplement his legit business as the owner of a string of dry cleaning companies, Irving is captivated by Sydney's brazenly ruthless abilities as a sweet-talker who can convince marks she's an English lady with city connections.
However, their successful run of low-key cons brings them to the attention of FBI agent Richie DiMasso (Bradley Cooper), a reckless, fame hungry spook who figures he can utilise their expertise as grifters to snare crooked local politician Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner).
Things get messy when Richie's eye wanders towards Sydney, whose relationship with Irving, already strained by their bust, is further pressured by his broken marriage to his flaky wife Rosalyn (Lawrence), who he describes as the "Picasso of passive-aggressive karate". And she is.
This is essentially the story of four damaged people who manage to reinvent themselves in such a fashion that their lives take different courses, some toward happiness, some not.
Intriguingly, these very human stories seamlessly unfold against a backdrop of criminal farce drawn from the real-life Abscam FBI sting scandal of the 1970s.
Irving, with his paunch and unruly comb-over, is never going to be a big player and sees his one chance for genuine happiness spinning out of reach as Sydney is persuaded to up the stakes with ever more elaborate - and risky - stunts as she gets thicker with Richie.
Adams plays Sydney - the smalltown former stripper who realises how she can utilise her simmering sexuality as a weapon of self advancement - with a glorious, sultry grit while Lawrence fully occupies a relatively small role with a bravura performance culminating in a bitterly twisted version of Macca's Live & Let Die that outclasses Alan Partridge's Jet.
Cooper has the trickiest job of all - to make the duplicitous, rage-prone Richie likeable...but he manages it (just about) even if it's clear where Russell and co-writer Eric Singer's real emotional sympathies lie. And they lie with Irving, Sydney and Carmine, a good guy cursed with bad choices and the look of Gary Glitter.
Ramping up the unalloyed joy is the Seventies look, an acrylic riot of penny collars, ties louder than a police siren and Adams' wardrobe of flimy blouses slashed to the midriff. And then there's the score - a considered selection of minor rock classics ranging from Todd Rundgren to ELO.
It's the perfect package delivered by a cast firing on all cylinders and a director who's whipped up a perfect dramatic storm of romance, tension and humour.