Saturday, December 21, 2013

American Hustle [2013]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  ChicagoTribune (4 stars) (4 Stars)  AVClub (A-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J.P. McCarthy) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

American Hustle [2013] (directed and cowritten by David O. Russell along with Eric Singer) while cynical (from _top to bottom_ about deceit and far more problematically often _celebrating it_) and hence definitely NOT for "young minds" (NOT for minors, the R-rating, _for theme_, is certainly deserved) is still probably one of the more compelling American films of the year. 

Telling the story, sort of (the film begins with the introductory line "Some of this actually happened ..."), of the late 70s post-Watergate FBI-sponsored "Abscam" sting operation that sent 7 members of Congress (six Representatives and one Senator) to jail, the film centers on two "kindred spirit" small-time con-artists, Bronx native Irving Rosenfeld (played magnificently by Christian Bale) and transplant to New York from Albuquerque, NM, Sydney Prosser (played outstandingly as well by Amy Adams), both characters apparently on the low-level con-artists that the FBI used/"flipped" to set-up the Abcam operation.

Rosenfeld had inherited his dad's struggling "glass business" (experiencing his dad as having been "a terrible businessman," he had on his own "started to help his dad out" by... "creating business" for him, that is, basically picking-up an occasional stone or two, and well...).  He had expanded into running a series of dry-cleaning shops in both the Bronx and Manhattan, but made his real money selling fake art to more-status-conscious-than-smart/ladder-climbing/wannabe investors and above all offering "loan services" to people with debt problems (For a non-negotiable cash upfront fee of $5000 he promised them $50,000 from "overseas connections."  Of course, after paying the $5000, the folks never saw him again...  Who would fall for such a scam?  Well ... someone who's had a gambling addiction, had embezzled, etc, etc, that is, someone for whom losing of _an additional $5,000_ would really be the least of his/her problems ...).

Introduced to poor-but-ambitious Sydney Prosser at a party, Rosenfeld takes to her, and introduces her to his little operation and she, who presents herself in a voice-over as someone "who'd like to have been ANYONE but who she was" is smitten as well, responding to his "partnership offer" in a British accent, re-introducing herself to him as "Edith Helmsey of high social pedigree and Royal connections" from "across the pond" in England.  And so both the "fake art" and "loans from overseas" business (scams) really take-off from there, even if good-old Irving Rosenfeld is actually married ... to Roselyn (played wonderfully in the film by Jennifer Lawrence) who he largely keeps in the dark about his business because ... though he is smitten also by her, he simply finds her too unpredictable to be able to trust her (her unpredictability is apparently exactly what he finds attractive about her, even if, in his "line of work" ... conning people ... unpredictability is incredibly dangerous).

And so it goes.  Since "business" was going so well for Irving and Sydney, err Edith Helmsley, eventually they attract the attention of the FBI, agent Richie DiMaso (played magnificently by Bradley Cooper, yes ALL THE LEAD CHARACTERS IN THIS FILM PLAY THEIR ROLES OUTSTANDINGLY) making the sting.

BUT Agent Richie DiMaso has "bigger plans" for them.  So impressed by their con-operation, he recruits them to help him set-up a sting operation "from the ground up" (what became known as Abscam) to catch/entrap politicians taking bribes to help an FBI stand-in (played by Michael Peña) posing as an Arab sheik get U.S. citizenship in order to help invest in the building of new Casinos in Atlantic City (it is true that just around that time, New Jersey had legalized gambling in order to bring-in casinos to Atlantic City to help return it to its previous weekend tourist-Mecca glory).  Irving doesn't like this at all, as he'd always seen his operation as being "small" and now he was being asked (forced really by FBI agent DiMaso) to "go big" and help them entrap politicians, which Irving felt could only go badly.

The first person they try to entrap is the big-haired (Rod Blagojevich-like?) and largely big-hearted (perhaps also, honestly, like Blagojevich) mayor of Camden, NJ, Carmine Polito (played again magnificently by Jeremy Renner).  The character of Carmine Polito again seems based on the actual mayor of the time of Camden, NJ Angelo Errichetti.  Believing that casinos in Atlantic City would bring jobs to his neighboring Camden, NJ, he wholeheartedly enlists, introducing then Irving Rosenfeld, Edith Helmsley, and Richie DiMaso to all kinds of New Jersey politicians AS WELL AS (perhaps inevitably ...) THE MOB (a representative of whom is played, again magnificently, by Robert De Niro).

The entry of THE MOB into the picture scares the daylights out of Irving Rosenfeld, who of course knows that "there is no Arab shiek," etc.  And he also grows increasingly uncomfortable in framing the heart of gold mayor (if clearly mobbed-up) Carmine Polito.

What to do?  Well that's the rest of the film ... ;-)

Great, great story even if it is built from top-to-bottom on deceit.  Perhaps it does teach the lesson: "Oh what webs we weave when we first come to deceive."  Irving Rosenfeld saw himself as basically "an honest crook" but wow ... what mess he found himself in ...

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