“American Hustle” is not a masterpiece, it’s just a lot of fun

Christian Bale is ostensibly the main star of “American Hustle,” and he does a wonderful performance, but the really amazing job is done by the director, David O Russell. Small wonder that he’s being talked about in the “Best Director” Oscar category.

If you liked his romantic comedy, “Silver Linings Playbook,” you’re likely to love “American Hustle.” The movie’s storytelling style, cutting in and out, using voice-over narrative, then real-time pacing, then flashback or flash-forward, being first personal to the point of intimacy then almost documentary-style remote, and coaching some of the best acting his stable of stars ever had a chance to do, is almost breathtaking. There’s a union bug at the end, too.

On the way home afterward, when we talked the movie over, we realized that Russell had created all this magic from a story that wasn’t, by itself, all that fascinating.

It was loosely based on the Abscam FBI sting of the late 1970s. Federal agents dressed up a phony sheik and used him to tempt several politicians into bribery charges.

But in Russell’s version, it was all about the personal greed and ambition of a young agent who sucks a reasonably competent man/woman con artist team into his grand design. The very hyper Bradley Cooper plays the agent. The normally sophisticated Christian Bale, with a big paunch and a comic combover, is the small-time crook forced into unsafe and deep waters. Amy Adams, as we’ve never seen her before, a cold blooded femme fatale, is the second crook. Just those three would be enough talent to take almost any movie into the big time, but “wait, there’s more…”

Jennifer Lawrence’s role sounds almost insignificant. She’s the con artist’s unsuspecting wife. She’s beautiful as Venus and dumb as a post. Moviegoers have seen women play this part as long as movies have been made, but Lawrence practically steals the movie with it. Given that she was known primarily for shooting arrows in the “Hunger Games” series, and that she was the stoic backwoods kid in “Winter’s Bone,” her transformation is completely amazing. Everybody else is good, too, right down to the short cameo performance of the bad mobster character, played by – you guessed it – Robert DeNiro!

“American Hustle” isn’t an art experience in which the viewer is changed while interacting with it. It isn’t a universal story and it won’t change your life or your attitude. It’s only what movies are made to be: fun. But if storytelling technique holds any sway with the Academy of Motion Pictures, it’s sure to get attention at the Oscars.

American Hustle”

Directed by David O Russell

Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale

129 minutes