American Hustle


A rather funny thing about David O.Russell’s very entertaining 70’s throwback film, loosely based on the ABSCAM sting (American Hustle),is that the FBI agent in this comedy/drama of scammers and schemers is probably the most unscrupulous of all the characters in this movie. Willing to do just about anything to get what he wants, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), is a wannabe agent who dreams of making a big bust. His over the top ambition is only overshadowed by his carefully curled hair. I loved Cooper in (Silver Linings Playbook),and he is great as a proper hotheaded jerk-off looking to move up the ranks completely blinded by ambition.

Can we just all agree now that Christian Bale is one of the most talented and daring actors we have?…I mean the first scene alone with him preparing his rather complicated comb over as the smalltime con-man (Irving Rosenfeld),would send most vanity ruled actors heading for the exit sign…he doesn't give a shit. Irving is smalltime, but he is smart and he knows how to control his world so as to not get caught.He also has a bit of a conscience; not good for the big-time stakes which will play out in this movie. Irving, is a player from way back, where he used to break windows in the Bronx to help his father's glass business when he finds out his dad is being squeezed. Now fat, bald, and middle aged, Irving owns a few dry cleaning places, sells fake art to unsuspecting customers, and also runs a con where he gets desperate people who can't get legitimate loans to front him 5,000 dollars with the promise of getting 50,000 in return. They never see the money. Like everyone in this movie, Irving cons himself into justifying his actions; that he is taking from lowlifes.

At a friend's pool party on Long Island, Irving spots Sydney ( a fabulous Amy Adams), and he is hooked. She is beautiful, confident, and Irving and Sydney connect as they are both huge Duke Ellington fans. They go to another room and listen to one of his records and talk about themselves; they connect. She sees past his appearance and they end up becoming a couple. Irving is completely head over heels in love with Sydney and he discovers she is the perfect person to partner up and help run his loan con. Sporting a phony British accent and going by the name of Edith Greensly, Irving and Sydney lure their victims in, and the business of scamming is good. Everything seems to be going great for these two small time crooks. They get so big that they get a new office named (London Associates).

A couple of problems: Irving is married to a rather energetic and unpredictable young woman named Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence, in speed mode), who has a young son from a prior relationship, and Irving loves the boy as if he were his own. Rosalyn is the kind of woman who spends her days drinking and figuring out new ways to blow up kitchen appliances and then finds a reason to blame the appliance for the accident. She is a wildcard in his life where he controls everything. Rosalyn uses the kid as leverage; as she knows that Irving will do anything for the boy.He wants out to be with Sydney, but she wont let him.

One day, another mark is in the London Associates office being lured by Sydney. It is Richie (Cooper), who has apparently behind Irving’s back, met with Sydney to discuss business, and their playful banter in the meeting makes Irving suspect and jealous. When he wont take Richie’s check, Sydney does, and the FBI busts in and puts her in jail for taking the money; Irving goes free. Stuck in a small cell for days ,clearly shaken and panicked, Sydney agrees to cooperate with Richie and the FBI to set-up some other hustlers and then they will be free of all charges of fraud. She convinces Irving that this is the right thing for them to do unless they run away to Europe.

Things get deeper and deeper and the ambitious and too blind to see Richie keeps upping the anty on who they are going after until now it is a sting operation involving bribing Congressman and a Senator, the Mayor of Newark New Jersey Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), who is a family man and just wants to help his downtrodden city, and ultimately the mob. He has Irving and Sydney until he says done, and they both know it. This film is a accident waiting to happen, especially when Rosalyn is around; and as Richie’s schemes plunge everyone involved into dangerous areas, you will be trying to figure out how this could all end up good in any way.

Who is playing who the most, is a common thread in this very good film by the wonderful and energetic director David O.Russell, who made the best movie of last year in my mind (Silver Linings Playbook). He is channeling Scorsese in this film, and that is a good thing. The over the top 70’s style of clothes and hairdos are a hoot, and Renner’s Elvis flip reaches for the sky. Some great classic songs from the era really add pop to this very entertaining and smart film by O.Russell. A few key scenes by Scorsese’s finest as a heavy mob boss really will make you sweat, and these moments add a very grave tone to convey how much trouble these people are in.


The standouts are Bale and Adams, who show the struggles, growing fear and dread perfectly as Cooper drags them into this mess he has created, even as Irving warns him not to. As the movie progresses and these two try to squirm and figure out how to get out of these jams, you will feel empathy for them; particularly Bale, who despite playing the character of Irving the con-man, does with his fantastic acting chops, inflections, and his hunched over stance, make you feel sympathy for him.The funny thing is; at times he seems to be mimicking De Niro. This is a great performance and he disappears into the character completely. Adams scenes with Cooper are great; as she is initially attracted to this man, and then horrified that someone who is supposed to be so smart, could ever find this completely shallow prick attractive beyond a quick roll in the hay. Give credit to Cooper for playing Richie so well. Lawrence, a great actress, starts off slow and revs it up for some key scenes. I must also point out the comic (Louis C.K.), as Cooper’s FBI boss, who is very dry and funny as man who knows how stupid Richie is. His inability to finish a story about he and his brother ice fishing with their dad in Michigan is a hoot. This is a good film that will get better the second time you see it; as most smart movies do. Some of us have to catch up.

You Should See This Movie!

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