'American Hustle': Hot Streak Continues For David O. Russell

David O. Russell is a director on a hot streak. His last two films, Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, pleased critics and did well at the box office. And his new film is likely to do the same.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's go to the movies now. David O. Russell is a director on a clear hot streak. His last two films - "Silver Linings Playbook" and "The Fighter"- pleased critics, and also did well at the box office. Our film critic Kenneth Turan says his new film, "American Hustle," is likely to do the same.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: David O. Russell is an audacious original with an affinity for edgy American madness. "American Hustle," his outlandishly entertaining new film, is a 21st century screwball farce about 1970s con men, scam artists, and those who dream of living large. "American Hustle" takes its inspiration from Abscam, an FBI sting operation that led to bribery convictions for several members of Congress.

Back we go to the era of gold chains, aviator sunglasses, outlandish clothes, and hair that just won't quit. Paunchy, balding Irving Rosenfeld, played by Christian Bale, may look unprepossessing, but in fact he's a practiced con artist with the gift of gab.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "AMERICAN HUSTLE")

CHRISTIAN BALE: (As Irving) I like to be a con man. All right? I'm in and I'm out. I was there the whole time. You don't know it. All right? That's an art, to become somebody who people can pin their beliefs and their dreams on.

TURAN: Irving meets Sydney Prosser, played by Amy Adams, at a Long Island pool party where they bond over a shared passion for a legend of jazz.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "AMERICAN HUSTLE")

BALE: (As Irving) Is that Duke Ellington on your bracelet?

AMY ADAMS: (As Sydney) Yeah. As a matter of fact, it is. He died this year, you know?

BALE: (As Irving) I know. I doubt anyone else here knows or cares about it.

ADAMS: (As Sydney) Well, I care about it. He saved my life many times.

BALE: (As Irving) Mine, too.

TURAN: Irving and Sydney become quite successful grifters. They also became lovers, even though Irving is already married to a slightly unhinged woman, played by Jennifer Lawrence. Things get even more complicated when the lovers are busted by an FBI agent played by Bradley Cooper.

He has grandiose plans of going after white collar criminals, and wants to manipulate Irving and Sydney to get his operation off the ground. As director Russell has demonstrated in past films, out-of-control characters are his specialty. Like a cowboy working in the biggest of corrals, he lets his characters roam as far and wide as they please before reining them in with perfect control, at the close.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: Kenneth Turan - you hear him on MORNING EDITION. He also reviews movies for the Los Angeles Times. And this is NPR News.

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