“As far as I could see, people were always conning each other to get what they wanted. We even con ourselves. We talk ourselves into things. We sell ourselves things we maybe don’t even need or want by dressing them up. We leave out the risk. We leave out the ugly truth.” – Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale)
New Jersey, late 70s – Fraudulent duo Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser aka “Lady Edith Greensly” (Amy Adams) get caught in the act by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). Smelling an opportunity for fame and recognition, the agent decides to offer the crooked couple a dishonest deal that would force them to gather incriminating evidence against four other people. To avoid prosecution, Irving and Sydney agree, not knowing the object of the FBI’s investigation: several corrupt congressmen, ruthless mafia boss Victor Tellegio (Robert DeNiro), and most spectacularly Camden’s popular and big-hearted mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). Polito’s ambition to create jobs by revitalizing Atlantic City’s casinos might make him susceptible to bribes by a fake Saudi sheik. A game of deceit and conflict ensues, not making Irving’s personal dilemmas – evolving around his unpredictable wife (Jennifer Lawrence) and his beloved adoptive son – any easier …
“Some of this actually happened” according to the film’s beginning. Indeed, the plot of American Hustle (2013) is loosely based on a late ‘70s/early ‘80s FBI sting operation code-named “Abscam,” short for “Arab scam.”
All the names of the real people involved have been fictionalized, and much has been amplified to fit the big screen. What results is an entertaining, driving crime drama that goes beyond the obvious plot, inviting the audience to ponder questions like: When is a crime actually a crime? What is a ‘good’ cause? What drives and motivates people to use very similar means to very different ends? The mostly over-the-top characters add a few dashes of black comedy, but their idiosyncrasies are believable, so they don’t come at the cost of credibility. Special praise goes to the film’s ending which you don’t see coming and might just make you feel like you’ve been conned, too.