American Hustle is to the 70’s what The Sting is to the 30s. It’s both an excellent heist movie loosely based on the AbScam scandal of the late 70’s and a tongue-in-cheek homage to the era the movie is set in. The plot centers around two small time con artists, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and a woman named Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), who are making a pretty good life for themselves selling fake financial services, false certificates of deposit, and forged artwork. As they work their marks, they find themselves falling in love, which is complicated by the fact that Irving is married to Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence). She doesn’t really love Irving, but clings to their marriage out of fear of change and holds their son as hostage against any threat of divorce from Irving.
Irving and Sydney are doing ok, until they get caught in a sting operation by Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). The charges and evidence against the two are not enough to arrest Irving. But Richie holds Sydney in jail. Charges are pending, but basically Richie is holding Sydney hostage to get at Irving. They strike a deal whereby Irving and Sydney agree to teach Richie how they run their scams. The deal is if they help Richie with four busts, he drops the charges against them.
And so the trio enter into an unholy alliance, no one really trusting each other. Problem is, Richie is Ambitious with a capital A and what starts out to be small time sting operation starts escalating and spinning out of control. It evolves into an amazingly complex scam where you are never quite sure where anyone’s allegiance lies and it becomes increasingly clear that everyone’s lives are at risk if the operation falls apart.
As events unfold we get the good, the bad, and the ugly of 1970’s pop culture, fashion, and attitudes. For those old enough to have lived through the 70’s, the nostalgia factor alone is worth the ticket price.
Like The Sting, American Hustle has to lay out a very complicated heist in away that makes it reasonably easy for the audience to follow without revealing too much at one time. I’m glad to be able to say that American Hustle did this very well.
In addition to the four leads, there is an amazing ensemble of supporting actors which truly sell the 70’s for us. One performance in particular that stood out for me was Jeremy Renner’s performance as Mayor Carmine Polito.