Oscar time is coming around the bend, and definitely up for some awards is David O. Russell’s Scorcese like crime film, ‘American Hustle’, once more exposing the seamy underbelly of big business, big criminals, and bad politicians. The cast is spectacular (De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale and more) and the story is loosely based on the Abscam sting of the late 70s. Our story is set in 1978, complete with a 70s soundtrack to make those of my generation hum right along. The movie itself hums right along as well, finishing in two hours and nine minutes. But there is some confusion as to what sort of movie this is— is it an expose, is it a comedy, is it a parody or satire, or should we take it more seriously than that? To be sure there are some hilarious moments and dialogue at times in this movie. Jennifer Lawrence provides a new standard to what playing ‘the dumb blonde’ ought to look like. In case you are not old enough, or were living in a cave in the late 70s and early 80s, here is a brief Wiki summary about the Abscam scandal.
“Abscam (sometimes ABSCAM) was a United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) sting operation run from the FBI’s Hauppauge, Long Island, office in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The operation initially targeted trafficking in stolen property but was converted to a public corruption investigation. “Abscam” was the FBI codename for the operation.
“The investigation ultimately led to the conviction of a United States senator, six members of the House of Representatives, one member of the New Jersey State Senate, members of the Philadelphia City Council, and an inspector for the Immigration and Naturalization Service.”
In other words, this movie is only loosely based on some of the things that happened that led to that sting operation, but then, this was not supposed to be a documentary. Were you to think that or even that this could qualify as historical fiction, then you have been conned! The heart of the story here is the tale of a low level con artist played brilliantly by Christian Bale (I do not envy what he had to do to get into character— namely have a good deal of his hair removed and gain about 50 pounds of paunch) and Amy Adams (an ex-pole dancer who wants a better life).
The story is such that one could take it as a parody of the stupidity of con artists not smart enough to pull off the big con. On the other hand you could also take it as a cautionary tale of what happens when blind ambition and greed is allowed to run amuck, and run over whatever morals or conscience one had in the past. Along the way we also learn of the stupidity of allowing your private parts to do your thinking for you when it comes to relationships.
This movie is decidedly not a family film, filled as it is with bad language and enough slease and tease to last a long while. It also gives a glance at the ugly American, and ugly America that we would rather not see, and rather the world not see either. But make no mistake, America is indeed the land of the hustle and the con in so many ways, and it would be wrong to deny it. Sadly for many of the characters in this film, they discover that when they sell their souls to the Devil in order to get rich, or get what they want in life, there is nothing left of themselves worth being, having, or selling.