American Hustle – 2013
This was one of those movies that I have really been looking forward to. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was about, but it had a great and talented cast and it was billed as a dark comedy, a genre of which I am particularly fond. I saw the poster and liked its look and the way it clearly evoked the early 80s. I had visions of watching a film about some kind of team based heist like the popular movie Oceans 11. But when I saw the film, I didn’t get what I was expecting, and I think that was all for the better.
What I got was a movie that was loosely based on the FBI ABSCAM operation of the late 1970s and early 1980s. And I do mean loosely based. In fact, the film opens with a message on the screen saying, “Some of this actually happened.” In other words, we’re telling you right from the start that historical accuracy is not our goal here, and because of that honesty, I was completely on board.
The movie starred four actors who were nominated for the four acting awards on Oscar night. For Best Actor and Actress, we were treated to Christian Bale and Amy Adams, playing con artists and lovers, Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prossler. Then there was the FBI agent, Richie DiMaso, played by Bradley Cooper, who arrests them and makes a deal with them. In this deal the con artists agree to line up four bigger arrests for the FBI. But things go awry when Irving’s young wife, Rosalyn, played by Jennifer Lawrence, starts making waves. She is beautiful but selfish, manipulative, and unintelligent.
DiMaso wants to become famous for the major sting operation in which he hopes to arrest and convict corrupt high profile criminals and politicians. The first one he goes after is the Mayor of Camden, New Jersey, Carmine Polito, played by Jeremy Renner. The movie also has a few supporting roles played by notable actors like comedian Louis C. K. as Stoddard Thorson, Richie’s FBI supervisor, Michael Pena as Paco Hernandez, or the phony Sheik in the con, and an uncredited Robert De Niro as Mafia boss, Victor Tellegio. The one scene in the film, in which De Niro appears is one of the most intense scenes in the entire movie. He is the kind of mobster who will make sure you are killed if you cross him. He almost sees through the con, insisting that the Mexican-American FBI agent to speak to him in Arabic.
But the scam works a little too well. Mayor Polito is a man who really wants to help his citizens, and buys the con, hook, line, and sinker. He wants to build hotels and casinos in Atlantic City, and of course, when legalized gambling comes into play, the Mafia gets involved. The con starts spinning out of DiMaso’s control. On top of that, he starts to fall in love with Sydney, while a jealous Rosalyn starts an affair with a mobster, to whom she nearly divulges the entire operation.
The film continues and almost becomes a character study as we try to discern who is conning who, what their motivations are, and how it will all turn out. Not only did Bale, Adams, Cooper, and Lawrence do a fantastic job but I think special props have to be given to Renner, who easily kept up with them. I’m a little surprised he wasn’t nominated for an acting award as well.
I also liked the details in the film’s aesthetics. Michael Wilkinson was nominated for the Oscar for Best Costume Design, and it was well-deserved. David O. Russell was also nominated for Best Director, and the film was nominated for Film Editing, Production Design, and Writing, Original Screenplay. With all ten nominations the movie received, I am surprised American Hustle didn’t win anything.
Now, even though the film acknowledged the fact that they were not going for historical accuracy, it is interesting to know some of the facts that were changed to make the film more entertaining. For example, the film portrays Carmine Polito as a basically honest politician who gets suckered into corrupt behavior. But in reality, Angelo Errichetti, the man on whom the character was based, was already a corrupt politician before he was approached by the FBI and their convicted con artists. In the movie, Sydney was an American girl who was masquerading as a British aristocrat named Lady Edith Greensly. There is drama when her true identity is revealed to DiMaso. In reality, Evelyn Knight, the inspiration for her character, actually was British, though not an aristocrat, and she was barely involved in the ABSCAM operation.
The end of the movie was pretty satisfying. Irving and Sydney not only avoid going to jail, but are able to blackmail the FBI into giving them immunity in the scandal, and go legit as art dealers. The ABSCAM operation is a huge success and Polito, along with one corrupt Senator, six members of the House of Representatives, three Philadelphia City Councilmen, and one inspector for the US Immigration and Naturalization Service are convicted of felonies. DiMaso gets taken off the case for his incompetence, and his career is ruined. Meanwhile Rosalyn ends up with Pete, the Mafia man, played by Jack Huston. Everyone seemed to get exactly what they deserved. Cheers to a well-written script and a great cast of talented actors.