American Hustle is a story about Irving Rosenfeld, a low-level married con artist from the Bronx. At a pool party, Irving becomes enamored with Sydney Prosser who’s at a point in life where she’s ready to reinvent herself. The pair strike up a partnership and together hone their skills at swindling those with the least to lose as they work their way up the food chain.
When Irving and Sydney attempt to con Richie DiMaso, he reveals he’s an FBI agent and offers them an option of jail or help entrap other con artists in exchange for leniency. As Irving and Sydney accept the deal, when searching for a victim to satisfy Richie, the Mayor of Camden, Carmine Polito, is introduced to them, because he is seeking funding for developing Atlantic City into a casino mecca. A web of a political corruption ensues in what evolves into the Abscam scandal.
The movie opens with the statement, “Some of this actually happened,” which is a perfect fit for this story. Irving lays out the film’s theme when teaching Richie how a con succeeds; people believe what they want to believe, and once they think you have something special, they won’t accept no in order to be in on it.
There is an early scene where Irving, Sydney, and Richie are walking through the Plaza Hotel in slow motion to the tune of a 70s soundtrack; something that’s not original but would have worked if wasn’t repeated elsewhere in the film. Eventually, these stylistic techniques become distracting.
A love triangle emerges between Irving, Sydney, and Richie as Richie tries to influence Sydney, and the question is whether he is seducing or being seduced by her. It could have worked if the pacing of this story line was properly developed to have a stronger impact. Instead, the constant vacillation on Richie’s part causes Sydney to come off as sex-starved. This culminates in a disco scene where Sydney tries to have sex with Ritchie in a woman’s bathroom stall. The only reason for the scene seems to be a slow motion disco ball shot of the dance floor to remind the audience it’s the disco heyday.
An important relationship that is not fully developed is the one between Irving and Carmine. Too many of their scenes together involve other characters and not enough like their initial meeting where Irving convinces Carmine to be part of a corrupt enterprise. The weight on Irving’s conscience would’ve had a stronger impact if there had been more interaction between them.
There is a humorous plot line as Richie’s supervisor attempts to tell him an anecdote from his childhood as a teachable moment, but Richie continuously cuts him off throughout the movie. However, in other serious scenes Louis C.K. as the supervisor seems miscast.
Images of the Cadillac canoe and other vintage 70s cars to a 70s soundtrack will bring back a bit of nostalgia for some, but overall American Hustle was messy.