A Funny, Dirty “American Hustle”
By Skip Sheffield
Americans love to hate high-finance hustlers.
This holiday season we have not one but too comic crime caper films about financial flim-flammery.
The first is aptly titled “American Hustle.” The original title was even blunter.
The slick hustler of the title is the self-styled con man Irving Rosenfeld, played by a scarcely recognizable Christian Bale. Bale put on 50 pounds of bloat and had his head shaved for a hilariously elaborate balding comb-over and wig combo, which we see Irv meticulously create at the film’s beginning. This sets the tone for more silly and outrageous scenes to follow.
Created by writer-director David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer, Irving Rosenfeld was based on a real-life character, who with his faux British, posh partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), merrily swindled investors in what led to the government Abscam operation of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Unluckily for Irving, a dogged, ambitious FBI agent named Richie DiMaso got on the scent of their loan company schemes and concocted a sting that caught Irving and Sydney red-handed. Even more unluckily for Irving is his marriage to the volatile, jealous Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). Adams and Lawrence are costumed in revealing, flashy 1970s outfits that make them look like hookers. Perhaps that is the point.
DiMaso is played by Bradley Cooper in a ridiculous tightly-curled perm evocative of 1970s excess. Richie is the kind of unorthodox law enforcement man (he is fond of cocaine) who is almost as shady as the crooks he chases.
Under Richie’s thumb, Irving and Sydney are forced to con Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), a sleazy but not really evil Mayor of rampantly corrupt Camden, New Jersey. To ensnare Polito, Richie coerces his Mexican FBI colleague (Michael Pena) to pose as a wealthy Arab Sheik who has enough money to stake a casino all by himself. From there it gets even more complicated and far-fetched as greedy politicians implicate themselves in the Arab scam. The ultimate prize is elusive Miami mob boss Victor Tellegio, played in one short scene by a man who does menace so well, Robert De Niro.
In short everyone is dirty in “American Hustle.” Some are just dirtier than others. If you consider this film a camp left-handed salute to Martin Scorsese, you may enjoy it as good dirty fun. Up next is Scorsese himself directing “The Wolf of Wall Street.”