American Hustle captures '70s culture in captivating manner

“American Hustle” is an awful film with terrible acting, terrible direction and a terrible story line.

If you believed that, then you can imagine what it’s like to get lost in the web of cons surrounding Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale) in David O. Russell’s stylized, fantastic story of scandal.

It’s a film about lies, deception and the art of the con. A fictional story (loosely based on facts surrounding the ‘70s Abscam political scandal) bolstered by an historically-accurate backdrop, “American Hustle” is a unique, character-driven experience.

Bale plays a simple con-man who gets roped into pulling larger and more risky schemes by the seductive Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). Eventually the two get caught by a broke and desperate FBI agent named Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) who agrees to let them go if they help him pull a few high-profile cons involving the incrimination of political figures such as Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner).

Every character gets in a little over their heads, and the result is an engaging and entertaining story throughout.

The hilarious script and impeccable cast are the strongest points of the film. Every actor involved sinks deeply into their role and pulls off incredible comedic timing. Jennifer Lawrence has a fairly strong performance as the eccentric Rosalyn Rosenfield to whom Irving is reluctantly “married.”

However, of the five main cast members, Lawrence’s performance was the weakest. I couldn’t get past the lurking feeling that I was just watching her playing a character, rather than truly seeing Rosalyn Rosenfield come to life. In addition, her accent didn’t feel consistent. While her character was well-designed and well-written, Rosalyn deserved a more immersive performance than Lawrence gave.

On the other hand, Bale, Cooper, Adams and Renner were all fantastic. Russell has worked with most of these actors in the past (Bale and Adams in “The Fighter,” Cooper and Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook”), and he knows their strengths well.

In addition, the cinematography, sets, costumes and lighting are all gorgeous. From extravagantly-decorated casinos to lavish hotels, the movie is a delectation to look at.

Russell is an experienced director, having been nominated for best director and best adapted screenplay at the 2013 Academy Awards for “Silver Linings Playbook.” His perspicacity as a filmmaker shines through in every shot and directorial choice.

The period costumes are captivating and beautiful. Adams and Bale both have near 40 costume changes each, and it works. Everything period-specific in the movie is a shining example of the most classy, grandiose aspects of the ‘70s.

And nothing exemplified the ‘70s better than the film’s soundtrack. With Elton John, the Bee Gees, Chicago, Santana and America, there are plenty of great artists from this era, some of which aren’t well known. Music Supervisor Susan Jacobs uses these songs in an incredibly effective ways to creatively amplify the action on screen.

“I’ve Got Your Number” by Jack Jones plays while Irving is describing his enduring love for Sydney. “Evil Ways” by Santana plays while Lawrence’s character walks towards a group of mobsters unaware of the danger that will follow.

Not all of the songs are perfectly period accurate (such as “Long Black Road” by Electric Light Orchestra from 2001), but they all fit in and work together to create sonic joy.

Perhaps the best example is “Jeep’s Blues,” a 1950s song by Duke Ellington that plays an important role in the film, appearing three times. The song becomes an intrinsic theme for the movie, and is a prominent illustration of the relationship between Irving and Sydney.

Despite the chaotic double-crosses and plot-twists, “American Hustle” is a love story at its core. The tumultuous relationship between Irving Rosenfield and Sydney Prosser is the focal point of most of the events in the film. Moments that are touching and introspective work in good balance with moments that are outrageous and comical. “American Hustle” is a tremendous success.