I was going to start my review by saying American Hustle is the best Scorsese movie since Goodfellas, no matter that it wasn’t actually directed by Martin Scorsese. But American Hustle is made by movie maverick David O. Russell, now one of Hollywood’s biggest and most reliable A-list filmmakers, and the film is truly and uniquely his, as much I Heart Huckabees as it is Casino. Like its main characters, this almost rudely, insistently entertaining movie has tremendous confidence and sparkling showmanship, spinning its twisted Horatio Alger yarn with all the skill of a seasoned swindler.
Russell doesn’t just flirt with disaster—as he did in Silver Linings Playbook—but courts it openly. Almost continuously over its 135 minutes, the director seems to embrace complete entropy (if not anarchy) and an exaggerated human circus approach, only to pull a long con of his own, one performed with enough control and elegance to have you hooked. If the result, more flimflammery flair than finesse, seems like a bit of a narrative mess, it’s a rich, marvelous mess in which the narrative is not what mattered to begin with.