Dee Discusses: American Hustle

Posted: December 26, 2013 by Dee in Dee, General Media, Movies, New Movies, Reviews
Tags: , , , , ,

There will be spoilers in this review. You are warned.

I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about Abscam before this movie, so I looked up a little information. I knew that it was a corruption play done by the FBI that caused arrests of several political figures. And that very few politicians had been arrested before then for taking bribes, so it was considered something of a big deal. It was run by a conman and criminal who they used to set everything up. I know that there are a lot of differences between reality and American Hustle, and that’s why I appreciated the movie comes right out and said “some of this actually happened.” I had mixed feelings coming out of the film, which I’ll get to in a bit, but it drew my attention for a variety of reasons. The time period, I was interested in seeing a film set in the 70s, and the cast is ridiculously impressive. I love Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams. So this was a gimme. They’re all nominated for Golden Globes, and I have to say I approve. Whatever my lukewarm feelings about the movie itself, the actors were all on the top of their game. It reminds me of Silver Linings Playbook, which I also wasn’t that impressed with but liked the acting (suspiciously also having Lawrence and Cooper in it). So let’s get to it.

It’s 1978 and two con artists meet and fall in love: Irving (Bale) and Sydney (Adams). Together they decide to run a scam where she pretends to be a British noblewoman and they embezzle desperate people. He’s also married to Rosalyn (Lawrence), who controls him by holding their son over his head, in case he ever tries to leave her. During one of their cons, they’re arrested by Richie (Cooper), a hot headed FBI agent who wants to use them for his own purposes. He’s attracted to Sydney, and he makes a deal with them that he’ll let them go if they help him con four higher ups. They create the idea of a wealthy Arab Sheik, who will invest money for the right corrupt reasons, and the con gets a little bigger when a politician is brought in. Carmine Polito (Renner) is a popular mayor who wants the best for New Jersey, and apparently is willing to do anything to help his state out. When he spooks during a sting, Irving manages to befriend him and bring him back into the fold. Richie is convinced now that they can do bigger and better, that they can aim for powerful politicians. His boss isn’t that happy about it, but his boss’ boss is. Richie meanwhile gets closer to Sydney, and she’s pushed Irving away for refusing to run away when they first got caught. A love triangle (or square with Rosalyn) happens. So sick of love triangles.

Irving gets nervous when they court the mob accidentally, and things take a turn for the worse when Rosalyn implies him working for the police in a conversation with her new boyfriend. A mobster. In the end Irving finds a way to get him and Sydney off for their crimes while still giving the cops a few corrupt politicians. Just not as big as the mob, sorry. Because they get conned by the conmen (seriously what were you thinking?), Richie gets kept out of the glory. From what I can tell, people were mixed about the Abscam in reality. On one hand, they did get politicians who were accepting bribes, and this was one of the bigger FBI cases at that point. On the other, I guess people were upset since it came so closely after the Watergate, and led to yet more jaded citizens. Well, their politicians were corrupt. Now it’s sort of expected. The crooks get a somewhat “happy” ending, which left me cold, because … did they deserve it? Was the movie trying to make me root for them? More on that soon.

The movie has a lot of great things going for it. It makes use of the time period with excellent music, costumes, and settings. The performances are brilliant of course, this is a fantastic cast right here. They all do so well with their individual characters and their interactions with one another. I have to say that I think Cooper and Lawrence stuck out the most, because Cooper’s intense rage driven Richie was pretty fascinating, and Lawrenence’s Real Housewives of New Jersey Rosalyn was charmingly vapid. But they all were great. It had some sincerely hilarious moments, I found myself laughing more than I expected several times. I’d say my main problem is I wasn’t sure about the tone, or what the movie wanted me to take from it. Like I said above, was I supposed to root for Sydney and Irving getting away? I had to admire their intelligence, and there are film criminals in the past I’ve been affectionate toward. But I can’t say I was glad they got away with it. They took advantage of desperate people and lied and cheated their way through the film. I love complicated characters so I have no problem with protagonists that are more like antagonists, but I wasn’t sure if the movie was trying to sell us on them being the “good guys.”

On that same line, was Richie supposed to be the bad guy? To be fair, he was a jerk. He was violent and vicious at times, but he was doing his job, and he did come up with a plan that landed them a big win. He wasn’t a good person, but no one really was in the movie. And I’m not sure I felt any sympathy for Carmine. Sure he was a good guy, but he still knowingly broke the law and did illegal acts. I feel like this was going for a Bonnie & Clyde sort of thing, and I love that, but it tread too closely to being a drama for me to take it as more of a parody or mad caper. The message was lukewarm. I enjoyed the film and the performances, the ending just felt empty to me, or rather unsatisfying. Maybe it was the hype that led to me being disappointed. Everyone seems so enamored with the film, so it does remind me of Silver Linings Playbook, which I also was sort of ‘eh’ about. Ah well. American Hustle was a decent flick and I’m glad I saw it, but I don’t plan on seeing it again. Basically, it’s decent, but I don’t get what the big hullabaloo is about.

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