American Hustle is an old-fashioned intrigue comedy in the tradition of The Sting, but with more concentration on complications of plot, as smart crooks eventually outsmart themselves-- if you read the story that way.
It starts with Christian Bale in charge of a fair-sized scam, and then his partner, Amy Adams, more or less takes over, and then a rather dubious FBI man played by Bradley Cooper gets involved, and from there we proceed to complications that eventually pretty much left me behind.
But the dominating pattern was always clear: each addition to the plotting gang was motivated by higher ambitions than the one before, and poor Bale became increasingly a mere cog in an increasingly rickety machine.
And there were other complications, like relations between Bale's partner in love and in crime, Amy Adams, and his wife, Jennifer Lawrence of Winter's Bone and The Hunger Games fame, and Cooper, and conflicting motives of what passes for love and what certainly is ambition, all the way around. Except maybe for Bale, who apparently would prefer the uncomplicated life at the bottom of the criminal financial heap.
I got most of my kicks out of the increasing complications of ambition, but the laughter of the audience suggested that they found a lot more straight comedy than I did (as audiences commonly do-- that's one reason I so seldom review comedies).
But Jennifer Lawrence revives the classic Carol Lombard school of exaggerated comic acting, and just about steals the show even from my favorite Amy Adams, while Bale's frustration at his loss of control becomes almost winsome.
The characters in American Hustle aren't admirable, but the acting, the writing and the movie itself all are.