The film tries to "bring you back to a time" and it doesn't really do that flawlessly. It doesn't totally fall down on the job? But it is a little too self conscious in its "retro-ness". This is a pitfall of many films set in some time viewed as iconic. Not EVERYONE dresses in the uniform of the time (usually there are fashion carry -overs aplenty). When they make a film about the 2010s everyone will be wearing beltless baggy jeans with their underpants hanging out.
But fortunately the film isn't just about wide ties and polyester. The film is sort of a caper movie. But it doesn't lean on that too heavily and, instead, relies on characters and the actors take these and run with them. Christian Bale plays against type as the out of shape grifter with a ridiculous comb over. Amy Adams as his partner whose fake English accept is a film-long gag. Her character is playing a character. Jeremy Renner is effective as the earnest politician who bends the rules for all the right, but still illegal, reasons. Sure Bradley Cooper seems to be playing the character from Silver Linings Playbook as an FBI agent but he does it well. Don't mess with success.
But Jennifer Lawrence comes close to stealing the movie in her supporting role. It is admittedly a role almost designed to do that--the sort of spurned, definitely unbalanced wife of Bale's Irving Rosenfeld. She is both comic and a mover of the film's action. And she is Jennifer Lawrence so she also looks great.
There are a number of great scenes in the film that have a limited amount to do with the basic plot. One of these has Rosenfeld pointing out a Master painting in a museum to Cooper's Richie DiMaso. He tells him it is a fake and the calls into question who the real master is. It is a brief and oddly compelling. There are a few others like it in the film. These do not rocket the plot forward but the set a tone for the movie. They also eschew making Renner's Mayor Carmine Polito the typical crooked politician. He may have to work with crooks, mobsters and con men but he isn't one of them. He is a true believer. It is a different approach.
Some critics may have become a little overly breathless about American Hustle but it is well paced, written, directed and acted. The film begins with a title stating "Some of This Actually Happened" and it is incredibly loosely based on the Abscam investigation. Part of the humor here is the weirdest least likely SEEMING parts of this movie did happen. The resolution makes less than perfect sense and seems a tad unlikely? Or maybe it is just that it isn't set up through the rest of the film and professional con artists wouldn't leave their "move" to chance? But this is a minor thing. If you think of the flaws well after seeing the movie? The film did its job, hiding the fact it isn't reality from you for a little while.