American Hustle



American Hustle
Runtime 137 minutes including credits
Not for children.

From l, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, and Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle.”

From l, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, and Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle.”

This is the 21st century version of The Sting (1973), loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal (1978-81) in which the FBI hired Melvin Weinberg, a con man with a record, to plan and carry out the scheme of entrapping government officials accepting bribes.

Here the con is Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale, in a very good performance), who is more romantic than con man. Although married to unstable Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), he gets the hots for Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), and who wouldn’t? They come together and start scamming people until they run into Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper, in an Oscar®-worthy performance) who turns out to be a really screwed-up FBI agent, and who arrests them and turns them into his Weinberg. From there they set out to entrap Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), a New Jersey politician who works hard for his constituency but is vulnerable to a sting even though his motives are pure.

The story isn’t just about Richie and Sydney and Irving conning their specific marks, it’s also about the two lovers, Irving and Sidney, conning each other and the other people with whom they become involved. Everybody is conning someone for something, like ambition and love. All through, however, the emphasis is on comedy and lightness.

The music is terrific, highlighted by Tom Jones’ “Delilah” and Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die,” two of the most popular songs of the ‘70s. It’s interesting that the rights to the latter is owned not by McCartney, who wrote it, but by Eon, Barbara Broccoli’s company that owns James Bond, so Broccoli got involved.

Amy Adams comes as close to appearing topless in every scene as humanly possible without actually doing it, missing by the skin of her chinny, chin, chin. She wears the plungiest of necklines throughout the film. Terribly distracting (but who’s complaining?).

This is the third part of a three-film exposition by director David O. Russell. The Fighter (2010, which also displayed more of Adams than previously seen) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012) preceded. The films are more about people and character development than story, although the story here is entertaining. Russell gets first rate performances from his cast, most of whom appeared in at least one of the two preceding films.

There should be Oscar® nominations galore here. If I had to rate them, though, I would put Lawrence at the top of the list. She really has the juiciest part, since she plays a manic personality. Lawrence grabs it and plays it with gusto. She has developed into an A-list star since 2011’s Winter’s Bone (in which she sparkled in a dramatic role as a backwoods teenager). When one considers the shortness of her career, she has shown an incredibly broad range from ‘Bone to The Hunger Games to Silver Linings Playbook and now this. She is something special. Not to be outdone by Adams, she appears in revealing clothes and jiggles her breasts at least as much as Amy, whose display is more, well, sedate, if that’s possible for a woman whose shirt is never buttoned. But Adams’ eyes are amazingly communicative of a wide range of emotions.

Although the basis is Abscam, the film is about the personal stories of the people who set up the sting and it is almost entirely fiction, but it is also probably a lot more entertaining than the truth would have been. For one thing, relying on the truth would have probably aced Adams and Lawrence from the film, and that would have been a tragedy.

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