"American Hustle" is one of those movies where, on the surface, you just don't get why critics rave about it. The trailer didn't look interesting, so I hadn't planned on seeing it. After checking the local theater's offerings, it won my vote because the other movies playing seemed to be even more Hollywood, and I just happen to live in this town.
I am still not sure why everyone is raving about it. The story (supposedly loosely based on the Abscam scandal in the late 70's) is about a con man named Irving Rosenfeld (played by Christian Bale) falling in love with Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), and together they decide to run a loan operation for desperate borrowers. Sydney adopts a British persona as Lady Edith Greensley, and starts the charade of telling borrowers "no", giving the appearance of being highly selective in lending money to candidates. Soon, everyone wants to borrow money from London Associates, the company the two started. Their angle is really to get the thousands in nonrefundable fee, in addition to embezzling money from investors.
FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) busts them, but he is attracted to Sydney, so he makes a deal with the two con artists: help him arrest four other con artists and they will be off the hook. At first, Sydney tells Irving that she would convince Richie she was in love with him to get out of the deal, but a real love triangle develops because Sydney is convinced Irving would never divorce his wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). Irving doesn't want to get a divorce because she would prevent him from seeing her son, whom he has adopted. Confusing? Not really.
The sting operation grows and suddenly, the ambitious Richie is bullying his boss Stoddard Thorsen (Louis C.K.) into stinging politicians. The actual sting itself can be read if one Googles "Abscam", and it is presented fairly simply, even though it must have been more sophisticated than portrayed. The scam itself isn't as important to the story as the acting; the acting is top shelf. Jeremy Renner as the Mayor of Camden, New Jersey Carmine Polito, Robert DeNiro as Mafia boss Victor Tellegio; every actor in this movie (from lead to supporting) does a very good job of making you believe their roles in the story. I found myself watching their performance more than paying attention to the scam itself.
What makes this movie good was that you got the sense that the story is really about what it takes for two people that aren't exactly upstanding citizens to realize how much they were made for each other. And how much they hate themselves for being con artists. It is this redeeming quality and self-awareness that they see in themselves that makes you actually root for them. You WANT them to get out of the situation they created for themselves because that's how they are. Even though they took advantage of desperate borrowers, they themselves were taken advantage of by the FBI, and to watch them do what they have to in order to survive is what makes this movie both sad but (kind of) inspirational.
I don't know if the Hollywood ending happened in real life, but I also don't care. It was good enough for me to say that if this movie was only loosely based on a true story, then sticking to the true story in detail must have been a little boring. By the same token, a liberal dose of playing with the facts also did not make me want to find out what happened to everyone. It is a solid blend of realism plus Hollywood, which is getting harder to pull off in today's world. This is the one case where I actually approve of a somewhat happy ending for all, so I give American Hustle an 87 out of 100.