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American Hustle: Style, Sleaze and Con Artists In The 1970s



The Academy Award-nominated American Hustle begins in 1978, at New York’s Plaza Hotel with Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) looking in a mirror, adjusting his aviator sunglasses and carefully arranging his toupee. Movie watchers soon realize that, like a fake head of hair, nothing is what it seems in this clever heist film.

Not everyone can be a skillful con artist like Rosenbloom and his partner and girlfriend Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams)-but almost anyone-including family man and mayor of New Jersey Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) can be bribed. And just when you think you’ve got all the plot twists figured out, bam! You’re socked with another one.

But unlike some convoluted government conspiracy films, American Hustle is surprisingly easy–and very enjoyable-to follow. The characters breeze through plan after plan; scheme after scheme, similar to Frank Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio) in the 2003 true-to-life film Catch Me If You Can.  Although FBI agent Richie DiMaso(Bradley Cooper) is a transparent, power-hungry character who throws temper tantrums and even resorts to violence when he doesn’t get what he wants, Rosenbloom and Prosser are complicated characters with consciences. Rosenbloom has no problem hustling complete strangers under desperate circumstances, but loves his adopted son dearly; Prosser struggles with the guilt of lying to DiMaso, who she’s in love with-or is she?

American Hustle is no clear- cut morality tale and the violence is minimal for a film about con artists, corrupted politicians, and mafioso. Director David O. Russell uses several storytelling and film techniques reminiscent of the Martin Scorsese gangster films Casino and Goodfellas-most notably, multiple characters doing voiceover narration, and humorous tough-guy dialogue-the “F” word appears in American Hustle nearly as often as it appears in Goodfellas. Music is especially prominent in American Hustle-the soundtrack features Wings, America, Steely Dan, and many other prominent 70s artists, and Donna Summer’s I Feel Love playing in an almost-surreal nightclub scene. 

Russell also pays painstaking attention to 70s fashion, makeup and hairstyles-in one amusing scene, DiMaso sits in his mother’s tiny apartment with a head full of small pink curlers, Rosenfeld’s wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and Prosser look every bit 70s vixens in sequined halter dresses and tops cut down to the navel, and Rosenfeld and Polito sport gold chains, velvet jackets and plaid polyester slacks.

Although the film runs nearly two and a half hours, like Goodfellas, once you start watching, you can’t stop-you’re drawn into the satisfying seediness of 70s lower-level con artists. All of the acting is great, but Welsh actor Bale is perfect as Rosenfeld, a working-class con artist with a thick New York accent And since there’s aren’t any good guys and bad guys, just degrees of human kindness and decency, you feel a little bit of sympathy for everyone.

Quote of the Day

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. John F. Kennedy

Odd Fact of the Day

Steve Jobs had a high school GPA of 2.65.