Review: American Hustle

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Review: American Hustle

Jesse Hoopes, Staff Writer

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There is something about a film set in the 1970s that lends itself to an embarrassment of cinematic riches. Filmmakers are all but given carte blanche to extol the vices of that era both aesthetically and culturally. After all, the ‘70s are not exactly remembered as an ascetic decade.

Director David O. Russell does not disappoint in depicting the ‘70s in all its tacky, kitschy glory.  Loosely based on the FBI Abscam scandal of the late 1970s, Russell, along with co-writer Warren Singer, relishes the portrayal of every cliché with reckless abandon. We can almost see him, behind the scenes, giving the audience a little wink, wink, nod, nod.

But are all of the embellishments symbolized by the culture of that time, window dressing for an otherwise weak story? Could Sydney/Edith (Amy Adams) seduce two men, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), not looking like she stepped off the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine circa 1978?  Probably, but it doesn’t matter. At the core of this story is the con, which, for all intents and purposes is timeless, and the backbone of the film.

“Some of this s–t actually happened,” claims the introduction, a tongue-in-cheek way of letting the audience know that the following is based on a true story… ish.  Nevertheless, it sets the tone for the film: we are not to take the following information as factual. Wink, wink.

For those who are not familiar with the infamous Abscam scandal, it involved an FBI sting operation that ultimately led to the conviction of a number of politicians, including the Mayor of Camden, N. J.

The cast runs like a well-oiled machine.  The ensemble, in every sense of the word, fully commit to the morally ambiguous nature of their characters who, like it or not, are anxiously intertwined.

“I’m going to be very convincing,” Sydney/Edith confesses to boyfriend Irving as she teasingly pushes him away. She willingly accepts the role of seductress, something she has used in the past, to win the trust of Agent DiMaso. Thus begins the con-within-a-con. We are left wondering if Sydney/Edith is really falling for DiMaso, who has elected to be the third player in this two-player-only game, or if this is all part of the scam.  Jennifer Lawrence as Irving’s self-described ”socially awkward” wife clearly enjoys her role, portraying Rosalyn with the emotional restraint of a cherry bomb and a naiveté that could be potentially fatal for those involved.

Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner round out the cast as the cocky, ambitious FBI agent and the altruistic-at-any-cost Camden mayor. Other noteworthy cameos include Robert DeNiro as Meyer Lansky’s right-hand man and Louis C.K. as Cooper’s overtaxed, literally beat-down boss.

At one point in the film, Irving and Richie are strolling through a museum when they happen upon a Rembrandt painting, which Irving claims is a forgery. Richie is stunned. He can’t believe it, to which Irving then asks: “Who is the master? The artist or the forger?” What makes a con successful is the ability to authenticate the illusion. The mastery of this film is that we don’t really know until the end who or what is real; we simply revel in the beauty of the scam before us.

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