Review: American Hustle
Bale piles on the pounds to lend weight to scam tale
Abscam - an FBI sting operation three decades or so ago - is unlikely to mean much to UK audiences but don't let that worry you. It does not require prior knowledge of this notorious American political scandal to leave the cinema believing you have seen one of this year's best films - if not the best.
So it's hats off to director David O'Russell (a proud half-Jew) who for the past few years has dominated the Oscars with The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook. Now, with this exhilarating con artist caper, he leads the Golden Globes with seven nominations.
The con artist in question is Irving Rosenfeld - known in real life as Mel Weinberg - a smart swindler who to avoid prosecution for his own scams agreed to set up a sting operation for the FBI that would bring down corrupt city officials and a US senator for accepting bribes. The story is vaguely reminiscent of The Sting, albeit in updated romantic screwball form, with all the colour and impact of Scorsese's Casino.
But O'Russell has not let facts get in the way of his story, stating in the opening that "some of this actually happened".
This caveat serves the film well, allowing the director to explore the "imagined" back-stories of the key figures, portrayed by a cast he has worked with before and who, as an ensemble, set the screen on fire.
At the helm is The Fighter Oscar winner Christian Bale, who, to play pot-bellied protagonist Irving, gained more weight than De Niro did for Raging Bull.
With a huge gold Star of David swinging across his chest and a comb-over to rival Donald Trump, Bale is unrecognisable and brilliant. And he is not alone.
Amy Adams excels as his sexy sidekick and cunning English aristo impersonator Sydney Prosser, as does Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Irving's manipulative and needy wife, Rosalyn. "She was the Picasso of passive aggressive karate," is the description in Irving's voice-over.
Then there is everybody's favourite Bradley Cooper, with a tight perm and coked-up attitude as the FBI agent leading the sting.
They are all sensational, as will doubtless be confirmed during the awards season.
And I for one cannot wait to see what O'Russell does next.