American Hustle poster“Some of this actually happened.” With that, American Hustle proceeds to take a fair amount of creative license to create a really good movie. The story is loosely based on the FBI corruption sting of the 1970s code-named ABSCAM. It features a schlumpy but successful con man named Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale with a paunch and a comb-over) who, along with his smart and seductive partner Sydney (Amy Adams) is forced to work for a wacky FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) who will let them off the hook, if they help him catch some bigger fish.

The A-list ensemble cast also includes the insanely versatile Jennifer Lawrence as Rosenfeld’s unhappy and unpredictable wife Rosalyn, and Jeremy Renner as Carmine Polito, a well-intentioned New Jersey politician who gets caught up in the sting.

Director David O. Russell is on an awards-season roll. He scored last year with Silver Linings Playbook (also starring Lawrence and Cooper, though the two don’t share much screen time in Hustle) and in 2010 with The Fighter. Here, he creates a world that is far from black and white. Everyone operates in an area of gray that will constantly leave you wondering just who is conning who.

American Hustle starts to drag a bit as it passes the two-hour mark. But overall, it’s an interesting, engaging and witty crime drama – with a great ’70s soundtrack – that deserves a respectable place on the year’s best lists. It’s rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content (including Amy Adams’ peek-a-boob wardrobe), and brief violence. But it’s a ‘soft’ R – especially when compared to debauchery-fest that is The Wolf of Wall Street, opening Christmas Day.

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