Sunday, January 19, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: American Hustle

American Hustle was directed by David O. Russell (Three Kings, Silver Linings Playbook) and was written by Russell and Eric Warren Singer.

I'll be brutally honest here-- I am not a fan of Russell's work. I recognize that his films are always well made and feature top notch actors, but they've just never connected with me.

American Hustle is no different. It's been almost universally praised by critics and has been nominated for an astonishing TEN Academy Awards. Really, ten? Must have been slim pickings last year if this film gets that many nominations. I honestly don't get it. All through the film I sat there trying to figure out if it was good or not-- it's that kind of film. 

Maybe I didn't care for it because I've never much liked heist or "sting" movies. You know, the kind where someone cooks up an impossibly elaborate and convoluted plan and everything depends on a hundred little things going right, and the tables keep turning (I knew you'd betray me, so that's why I secretly betrayed YOU!) until you have no idea who's on which side.

The Plot:
A comprehensive plot description would take a good twenty or thirty paragraphs, so I'll be as brief as possible. The film is loosely based on the FBI's ABSCAM operation in the 1970s and 1980s. It tells the story of two con artists who are forced by the Feds to set up an elaborate sting operation (involving an Arab sheik) to catch corrupt politicians. Hijinx then ensue.

• The film begins with a caption reading, "Some of this actually happened." I admire the filmmaker's honestly, and I wish more biopics and movies based on real events would follow suit (I'm lookin' at you, Saving Mr. Banks). 

Most so called "factual" films have little or nothing to do with reality, altering events, adding or dropping characters and changing motivations in order to be more cinematic, so it was a refreshing change to see one that admits it's mostly hogwash.

Most of the characters in the film are based on actual people who were involved in ABSCAM, but their names have all been changed.

Some of the film's other deviations from reality:

In the movie, Camden major Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) is a tireless, caring and honest politician who only gets involved in the scam to provide much needed jobs for his constituents. After Polito is caught, con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) feels so sorry for him that he lobbies for a reduced sentence for him. 

The real life Polito did actually care about the people of Camden, but was involved in quite a few criminal activities. Additionally, the real Rosenfeld did nothing to reduce Polito's sentence.

In real life, Sydney Prosser, Rosenfeld's girlfriend (Amy Adams), was much less involved in his illegal schemes and played no part in ABSCAM. She was also English, not an American pretending to be English (Com-O-Dee!).

Rosenfeld's wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) did not have an affair with anyone in the mob, nor did she blow his cover.

In real life FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradely Cooper) was just one of many, many agents involved in ABSCAM, not the sole architect of the scheme.

• Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a small time con artist who preys on desperate people who need loans. Rosenfeld has a horrific looking combover and a bloated, unattractive gut. That gut is all real-- Bale gained 40 or so pounds for the role!

This isn't the first time Bale has undergone a physical transformation for a role. He lost a whopping 60 pounds for his role in The Machinist, looking positively skeletal. He then packed on an impressive amount of muscle for the Dark Knight films, only to lose it again for David O. Russell's The Fighter. I'm impressed with his dedication to his roles, but all that losing and gaining weight can't be good for his health.

• Credit where credit's due: the film boasts quite a distinguished cast. Jennifer Lawrence in particular stands out as the wife of Irving Rosenfeld. Louis C.K. also does an amazing job as FBI agent Stoddard Thorsen, and steals the brief scenes in which he appears. Who knew he was such a good actor?

• Speaking of the cast, American Hustle is the superhero-iest movie I've seen in quite a while. You've got Batman, Hawkeye, Lois Lane, Mystique/Katniss Everdeen and even Rocket Raccoon (from the upcoming Guardians Of The Galaxy-- all in the same film. It's like the Avengers of sting movies.

• Supposedly much of the dialog was improvised on set. I don't have any problem believing that. Everyone seems more concerned about acting it up rather than telling a story with a coherent plot.

• All the characters in the film have horrible looking period hair styles (especially the men). It's always fun to look back at the fashions and fads of the past and laugh, but I lived through this period and I have to say it wasn't that bad. Sure there were some unfortunate trends, but not everyone looked as ridiculous as the characters in this film do.

A meandering and over-acted period piece that's more concerned with character than plot, American Hustle failed to enchant me like it did the majority of the population. I give it a B.


  1. Haha ! "Avengers of Sting Movies". Good one. Too bad that Guy from Dawn of the Dead remake wasn't in it...

  2. Too bad the cast didn't all put on costumes to fight government corruption-- then maybe we'd have had something.


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