The last time we saw Christian Bale in a David O. Russell film, he was a skin-and-bones heroin addict in 2010’s The Fighter. Fast forward three years, and Bale is now sporting a healthy pot belly and a comb over that would make Donald Trump jealous in American Hustle. Based loosely (we’re told at the outset that “Some of this actually happened.”) on the Abscam fiasco of the late 70s, it’s a spot-on period portrayal, and Bale’s, er, appearance is only one small, brilliant aspect of what is easily one of the finest films of the year.

Along with the attention to detail he brings to every film he helms, Russell has crafted a brilliantly-layered movie with an all-star cast for the ages. Fellow The Fighter vet Amy Adams joins Bale along with Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook co-stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence for a hilarious romp through snazzy hotel rooms and seedy Long Island split-levels.

Bale is Irving Rosenfeld, a con artist whose “honest” business is a dry cleaning chain. His specialty, though, is his loan office, where he scams people out of their dough, to the tune of $5,000 a pop. While married to the vivacious Rosalyn (Lawrence), Irving falls head over heels for Sydney Prosser (Adams), and he decides to bring her into the fold. When one of their marks turns out to be undercover FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper), they agree to help him nab even bigger fish in exchange for their release.

The cast of characters includes a wealthy sheik, a good-at-heart mayor, and several Congressmen, all of whom get tangled up (one way or another) before all is said and done. Russell, who co-wrote the script with Eric Warren Singer (The International), channels Goodfellas early and often, but make no mistake, this is not a rip-off of Scorsese by any means; Russell has his own style and his own deft way of orchestrating characters and plot to create a riveting film.

The 70s chart-topper soundtrack (including Lawrence’s show-stopping rendition of “Live and Let Die”), the costumes, and the hair and makeup only add to the authenticity, and the end result is a phenomenal movie that not only takes you into the heart of the Abscam sting but takes you inside Russell’s brilliant mind, as he cements his place as one of the finest filmmakers at work today.

5/5 stars