Do the Hustle: An American Tale of Mendacity, Prevarication, and Reciprocity

The seventies was a decade of disco dancing, music, platform shoes, and political deception. In New Jersey, at that time, the Abscam scandal was unfolding.  The scandal took its name from a phony Arab that was used to lure politicians into taking bribes with the promise of helping the city of Camden, NJ prosper economically. The mayor of Camden along with several Congressman and a U.S. Senator were arrested on federal charges including bribery.  This political corruption and the social era of the seventies serve as the backdrop for the film American Hustle directed by David O. Russell and starring Christian Bale (Irving Rosenfeld), Bradley Cooper (Richie DiMaso), Amy Adams (Sydney Prosser), Jennifer Lawrence (Rosalyn Rosenfeld), and Jeremy Renner (Carmine Polito). Robert DeNiro makes both a noteworthy and witty performance. Many other actors deliver captivating performances.  The film catapulted me retroactively to the seventies era of great music and dancing.  I expected to see the characters dance the hustle as a symbolic representation of that era and of the film.  Unfortunately, I did not notice this dance in the two dance scenes.  However, there were other decade emblems that captured the decade well.  This awesome film is all about deception and reciprocity. It scintillatingly uses wit and humor to convey the themes of both covert mendacity and reciprocity. The first half hour of the film is largely told in flashback so that the audience can understand the first ten minutes of the film.  It ends with a twist that is reminiscent of  déjà vu; however, because it was unexpected, the scene helps render a surprising conclusion to this superb film.

In the opening scenes of the film, we are introduced to the characters’ foibles and proclivities.  Bale sports a “comb over” to hide his balding head with a glued on toupee, for which he is ridiculed. The audience is immediately drawn into this comedic scene that may be all too familiar for some older or younger audience members.  As we are introduced to the major characters, the mendacious dynamics of the relationship between the characters is unclear; however, as we are given more information through flashback, the opening scene becomes less obscure. We are informed about the relationship between Sydney and Irving and how they came to meet Richie.  All of the characters are comical either because of their attire, their hair, their obsession with foul smelling nail polish, and because of their relentless obsession with greatness while disdaining mediocrity.

The acting under the direction of Russell is superb as the actors are all given lines that greatly illustrate their range of acting. Bale is able to show the duality of his character as he shows compassion when the audience least expects it.  Both Cooper and Lawrence are hilarious as the audience breaks out in boisterous guffaws during many of the scenes. Adams in her risqué clothing and phony accent delivers a compelling performance.  The setting is exemplified by all of the cars, clothing, and music that help the actors shine in their respective roles.

Many of the Oscar worthy films this year are based on true events.  American Hustle, is a fictionalized account of a true event, but it is told with great humor that may make it difficult to win an Oscar for best picture, for its chief competitor may be Twelve Years a Slave, a serious account of an unfortunate historical event.  In spite of the humorous raconteur, it is one of the best films that I have seen this year.  I highly recommend this film.  I may just see it again and join the audience in spirited laughter. Beware of long lines!

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