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American Hustle ••••

MV5BNjkxMTc0MDc4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODUyNTI1MDE@._V1_SX214_Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper
Director: David O. Russell
Screenplay: Eric Singer, David O. Russell
Drama/Crime, Rated: R
Running Time: 138 minutes
Release Date: December 20, 2013



(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, as a social dancer, I’m glad there’s finally a movie called American Hustle.

Well get out your polyester suit and wide lapels because we’re heading back to the 1970’s and the ABSCAM debacle.

The film begins with the pithy words, “Some of these events may have happened”. We meet Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a small time con-artist who dabbles in selling fraudulent loans and fraudulent paintings. He partners up with the beautiful Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), whose British aristocratic accent helps the crime business boom. But trouble is brewing. One problem is Irving’s loose-cannon-of-a-wife Rosylin (Jennifer Lawrence), who is raising Irving’s young son.

Enter ambitious young FBI agent Richie DeMaso (Bradley Cooper). He catches Sydney in the act of taking a bribe and negotiates a deal with Irving: Help him catch 4 perpetrators of white collar crime and they can go free. Irving realizes the jig is up and agrees to Richie’s terms. Richie then sets his sites on the mayor of Atlantic City, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) and realizes he’s just nipped the tip of the political iceberg.

Greg, American Hustle is a fascinating story about unsavory people and how they unravel. There is so much self-destructive behavior on display in the movie that I don’t even know where to begin, except to say that the movie shows in vivid detail all the many reasons behind the rise and fall of heroes and villains. There is greed, of course, but along with greed there is pride, arrogance, dishonesty, and an insatiable hunger for power and control.

The opening scene is very telling. Irving is a man approaching middle age and he is going bald.  We see him putting together the most elaborate comb-over in the history of comb-overs. There is ruse and deception throughout the movie, and we see how very little it takes to reveal all the lies for what they are – cheap ways to avoid reality and truth, and a means of getting what one wants despite being so ill-deserving.

Nearly everyone in this movie is out to “get one over” on someone. Irving and Sydney are trying to get one over on their marks. Richie is trying to get one over on Irving, Sydney, and Mayor Polito. He is out to make a name for himself in the FBI and rise up the ranks. Polito is actually a pretty good guy, trying to reinvigorate Atlantic City. He gets caught up in his own zeal and crosses the line from honest politician to fingers-in-the-wrong-pie politician.

Since there are no good guys in this film, it’s hard to say who the heroes are. Clearly the lead characters are Richie, Irving, Sydney and the mayor. Each has a strong goal. Irving and Sydney want to get out of their predicament. Richie wants a big bust – the bigger the better. The mayor wants to improve New Jersey for political points. But no one seems to have a higher purpose than their own personal gain.

I’d say Irving is the main hero of the story, as we watch all his plans and schemes unravel time and again. Yet Irving is nothing if not a resourceful and adaptive criminal whose street smarts and coolness under pressure serve him well during the many weird jams he finds himself in. Does Irving grow as a character? This issue is debatable but an argument can be made that Irving’s close brushes with disaster do eventually humble him and motivate him to change.

A running gag throughout the movie is a long joke about ice-fishing, told by Richie’s boss, Stoddard Thorsen (Louis C.K.). Thorsen never gets the chance to finish the joke because Richie keeps interrupting the joke to interject his own ending and his own interpretation of the meaning of the joke.  As befitting a man who always seems a step behind everyone else in the movie, Richie’s insistent interpretations to the joke are never correct, and in the end he pays for his arrogance. This is a major theme of American Hustle — arrogance comes with a big fat price.

Good analysis, Scott. But I fear there were scant few likable characters in this film. I’m not a fan of the 70s. It was a time of low culture and high egos. And that is evident on the screen. The fashion and me-first sensibilities are all there. Director / Writer David O. Russell captured the essence of the 70s well.

American Hustle is a character-rich examination of the greed and avarice of 1970s politics and organized crime. It reminds me in some ways of a modern The Sting. Were it not for the fact that it was based on the ABSCAM crackdown much of it would seem impossible. What was shocking was the paltry sums of money that people in high places took to look the other way or break the law. I give American Hustle 4 out of 5 Reels. I had trouble identifying with or otherwise rooting for any of the characters in this film and can only give 3 out of 5 Heroes.

Movie: reel-4 Hero: superman-3

Once again it pains me to agree with your ratings, Greg. American Hustle is a fun yet disturbing look at a blend of American greed, misplaced ambition, and political chicanery. I give great kudos to all the actors in this ensemble, especially the two main female characters Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, both of whom it can be argued steal the show. The deceptive nature of their beauty pretty much sums up what this film is about. Four out of 5 Reels is a worthy rating for this movie. And I agree that the hero story is a bit cloudy and convoluted, although I do give Irving credit for appearing to discover his heart and soul. Three out of 5 Heroes sound just about right.

Movie: reel-4 Hero: superman-3

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