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American Hustle Review

Updated on March 23, 2014

In 1978, Irving Rosenfeld is a con artist who strikes up a relationship with a fellow con artist, Sydney Prosser. They use Rosenfeld's smarts and Prosser's "British charm" to dupe clients into buying bogus art. Things are riding high - despite the fact that his affair with Prosser is putting a strain on his family life. However, family issues become the least of either person's problems as they are both busted by the FBI. To avoid the grey bar motel, Rosenfeld agrees to a deal where he will use his con artist skills to bust corrupt congressmen. The deal is made with Richie DiMaso who is a bit of a BS Man in his own right. Along with Rosenfeld's wife, the group ends up entangled in a world of the mafia and corrupt politicians. But personal issues arise as well: Prosser and DiMaso start an affair, and Rosnefeld's wife has an affair with a mafioso.

The film is based on the real Abscam Operation (named so because they tried to use a fake Arab to bait the mob). However, like most films, American Hustle takes liberties. Of course, the film makes no bones about taking said liberties. Names have been changed and the film even comes out and says "Some of this actually happened." Admittedly, that tagger is a minor pet peeve in the movie. Admittedly, I have never liked the pretense of saying a movie is based on a true story. Whether the movie is good or not, announcing that it is based on real events always comes off like a way of dodging any kind of criticism. The tagger on this movie (which is becoming more of a common trend) seem to be spoofing this retention, but I still consider it an unwelcome addition. Most movies "based on a true story" fudge the facts even a little bit so the movie itself should stand on its own. I bring this up because, frankly... American Hustle does stand on its own as a very good film.

While my synopsis for this film may have seemed a little flimsy, there is a reason for that. This is the kind of film where everyone is playing each other. As Rosenfeld points out "Everyone hustles a little." There are so many twists and turns in this film that giving a blow-by-blow analysis of everything that happens would probably take up the entire article as well as give serious spoilers. American Hustle has the right balance of intricacy - enough twists and turns to keep viewers on their toes, but not enough to force them to take notes.Though in a weird way, the story also feels secondary to the characters.

According to IMDB, much of the film was improvised. Christian Bale admitted to being more interested in characters than story, and that really is the tone this film has. The actual operation/scams seems to take a back seat to the characters' interactions. Every character has a trick up their sleeve. Every character is smart, but still manages to catch these others off guard and sometimes wind up in over their heads. A great example of this is when they disguise a Mexican as an Arab Sheik to trap a mobster. The Mexican only knows a few key phrases to bluff his way through a conversation, but the mobster speaks fluent Arabic! Also, as fun as it is to see these characters bite off more than they chew, it is fun to see just how they figure their way out of each situation. Or don't.

Though this does also serve as one of the film's few weaknesses. The story does lose its focus a few times. But much like Bale, I have always been more of a character man than a story man. Some of my favorite films include character-driven films like Taxi Driver and The Big Lebowski. Bottom line: I love characters, and these characters were fun to watch.


The film opens with Bale taking pretty elaborate steps to put on a toupee and set his comb-over to hide his baldness. At seeing this, the temptation is to think this is going to be some gimmick performance - like Bale is going to spend the entire movie winking at the camera and make lame jokes about his hair piece. Instead, it stands as an example of how much Bale can and will disappear into a role. First is the obvious fact that he traded his fit physique for a pot belly. I guess Bale has lost enough weight for roles that sooner or later, he had to gain weight. He has a different kind of confidence. True, he is cocky, but he is cocky but he comes off like the kind of guy who has been lying to the world for so long that he has started to believe his own lies. One great scene is when he first discovers Prosser's alter ego Lady Edith Greensley. He shows that he can still be surprised but also impressed while still trying to maintain his strong presence.

I mentioned before being a fan of Amy Adams, and this is definitely one of her best performances. Like Bale, this is a character who just absorbs herself in her hustle, constantly maintaining a British alter ego. I've adored Adams's charming personality in movies like Enchanted and Night at the Museum 2, but here she turns that charm on its side - using it to clearly obtain what she wants. In the same vein, she lets her guard down a little more than Bale, and is even a little forthcoming about that.

Bradley Cooper's DiMasso tries to pretend he is above Rosenfeld but still finds himself seduced by the con game and unapologetically goes over the edge at times. Jennifer Lawerence plays Rosenfeld's wife, Rosalyn. She is pretty bubble-headed but wants to fit into her husband's world, despite clearly being completely out of her element. This is the kind of role that easily could have been a throwaway role, but Lawerence plays it with a gusto that this is not just "the wife" role. Louis C.K. has a funny supporting role as DiMasso's superior. I am a great fan of C.K. and he plays the perfect foil to the over-the-top DiMasso. This is one of the best film ensembles in a long time. The actors have a great rapport and play off each other perfectly. David O. Russel has worked with a lot of the actors in this film many times before and it is easy to see why.

Director David O. Russell
Director David O. Russell | Source

American Hustle is one of those films that sits on a borderline of genres. It could technically be described as a funny drama - much like Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown. The film is funnier than the average drama, but not quite on the laugh-a-minute rate as something like Airplane!
There are a lot of funny and outrageous moments, but there are also a lot of slow-paced moments. Even though, I compared this film to a Tarantino film, would I compare David O. Russel to Tarantino? I will say this much. He is David O. Russel and after this, Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, he is a director who definitely deserves respect.

Overall, American Hustle is a great film. The story is intricate and the actors play off each other brilliantly. It is the kind of film that is both engaging and entertaining. American Hustle comes highly recommended.

Also, Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams kiss. If you see it for that, at least you will see a good movie with it.


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    • thebiologyofleah profile image

      Leah Kennedy-Jangraw 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      I appreciate that you didn't give away specific plot points and focused more on your opinions, adding insight about the true story aspect etc, made for a good review.

      I totally agree with you that ultimately this movie is more about the characters than the plot. I think upon a second viewing I will appreciate it more because I'll be focused on the characters and their motivations, sacrifices, etc.

      I also said a very similar thing about Jennifer Lawrence's role being a throw-away if it was played by a less talented actress. I thought Christian Bale gave the best performance out of all the actors but I agree the ensemble overall was great.