American Hustle ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
American Hustle lays bare all the tackiness of the 1970s. Irving Rosenfeld (played by Christian Bale) has the ugliest men’s hairdo of the year (it must be seen to be believed). He owns a chain of drycleaning stores, but his real enterprises are loan sharking and art forgery. He promises desperate people that he will try to get loans for them (these are people who can’t get loans anyplace else), but he doesn’t even try—he only takes his “non-refundable” fee of five thousand dollars and lies to them. His motto is that desperate people will believe what they want to believe.
When Irving meets Lady Edith Greenleaf (Amy Adams), an English woman with “London banking connections,” he has more than met his match. (She’s not English and her name is not Edith Greenleaf, but we don’t know that until later.) Edith is smart and just as conniving as Irving is. As a team, they can fleece millions from unsuspecting suckers. The two of them fall in love, but Irving has a problem: a volatile wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), who says she will never divorce him because there has never been a divorce in her family. She has a son, Danny, whom Irving has adopted as his own. She uses Danny as leverage in her battles between herself and Irving. Appearances to the contrary, Rosalyn is smart and, although very odd, she has a streak of decency. She is, in a way, Irving’s conscience. It’s ironic that the two women in Irving’s life are both smarter than he is.
Enter Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), a hip young man with gold chains and permed hair. (He puts his hair up at night in little curlers.) Irving and Edith take him into their confidence; they believe he is one of them. When Richie finds out enough about Irving and Edith’s crooked enterprises, he reveals himself as an agent of the FBI. He threatens to expose them unless they will help him bring down the nest of vipers that is the New Jersey political machine. His target is one Carmine Polito, the mayor of Camden. Mayor Polito is interested in revitalizing and restoring Atlantic City and he doesn’t much care how corrupt the enterprise is. At this point, organized crime enters the scene. There are payoffs and bribes to be paid, some involving members of Congress and the U.S. Senate.
American Hustle is about human failings, such as greed and incompetence, but also about people’s willingness to be “conned,” even when all the indications are there that things are not what they appear to be. (“People believe what they want to believe.”) Although a fictional story, American Hustle is based on the Abscam scandal of the late 1970s. If scandal involving high-ranking members of government makes good material for movies, future filmmakers will have a mother lode of material to draw from, what with current and ongoing government scandals. I don’t know about you, but I love seeing sleazy, self-serving politicians getting what they deserve.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp