Uniting two sets of leading actors from writer/director David O. Russell’s most recent movies (Christian Bale and Amy Adams from The Fighter, in addition to Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from 2012’s Silver Lining’s Playbook) his latest film offering is an engaging drama heavily littered with humour and totally bizarre situations.

Christian Bale is unrecognisable as Irving Rosenfeld, a fat, balding con man whose physical insecurities are hidden beneath a rather intricate comb-over, wonderfully described as “somewhat...elaborate” by his mistress and partner in crime, Sydney Prosser (Adams).

After self-absorbed Federal Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper, sporting equally elaborate ringlets in his hair) busts Rosenfeld and Prosser’s latest money-making scam, he makes them a proposal: the pair will receive reduced prison sentences if they agree to work with the FBI in bringing other criminals to justice.

Russell’s characters are perhaps the most interesting aspect of American Hustle, a series of quirky individuals who are both ridiculous and despicable in equal measure. The vanity of the male characters and the time they devote to their heavily constructed hairstyles only serves to emphasise just how deep the levels of deception run in this movie.    

The cast themselves are also truly exceptional and, even as a supporting actress, Jennifer Lawrence is a real wonder in the role of Rosenfeld’s eccentric and manipulative wife Rosalyn, reinforcing rumours of another potential Oscar win for 2014.

Like BBC TV series Life on Mars, the 70s vibe of the movie is helped along by its jaunty soundtrack, featuring classic hits by David Bowie, the Bee Gees and Elton John. Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die also gets a notably memorable airing when it is lip-synched directly to camera, in a weirdly brilliant scene that might feel out of place in any crime film other than this one.

Rather than serving up a movie that simply caters to the impending awards season, Russell presents a cinema experience that is fresh and different from his last, cementing his reputation as a director who refuses to be pinned down by one particular genre or style.

 All things considered, American Hustle signals an impressive start to the year for film in 2014, and is now showing in cinemas across the UK.