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Most of what's good about American Hustle has nothing to do with plot. It does have a plot: as its title cards proclaim, "some of this stuff actually happened," in the infamous FBI Abscam sting that took down a number of elected officials in the 1970s and 80s. In this version of the story, con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale, paunchy and middle-aged with an epic combover) meets and falls in love with Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a former exotic dancer who's looking for a way out of her life and into a better one. The two of them team up to do some small-time swindling, but they run into some roadblocks. One is slightly unhinged FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) trying to scale his own career ladder. Another is Rosenfeld's slightly unhinged wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), whom Rosenfeld both can't stand and can't quit.

DiMaso brings in the two con artists and offers them a deal: if they help him take down some bigger fish on corruption charges, they'll get off the hook for their more petty crimes. And so they cook up a scheme focused on Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), the least corrupt politician you'll ever meet, mayor of Camden, family man, and a true public servant. He's campaigning to rebuild Atlantic City, and DiMaso, Rosenfeld, and Prosser cook up an entrapment plan to use Polito as a puppet in bringing down more prominent politicians.

But the course of con and cop cooperation never did run smooth. Rosalyn is getting more and more jealous, and also getting cozy with one of the goons in league with both the casinos and the mobs. DiMaso keeps hitting walls in the form of his kind but steely boss (an excellent Louis C.K.). Prosser and Rosenfeld's relationship ...

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