American Hustle, directed by David O. Russell, is loosely based on the Abscam scandal of the 1970’s. This resulted from a sting operation in which the FBI developed the methods of entrapment it uses today against Muslims.
Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are a couple of swindlers who are caught in an FBI sting operation led by Richard DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). DiMaso tells them that he will not press charges provided that they agree to help him catch white collar criminals, which they reluctantly consent to do. The three of them eventually set their sights on a powerful New Jersey politician, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), who wants money to build casinos, which he believes will revive the state’s economy. They hook Polito up with a phoney sheikh (Michael Peña), who promises him money. The scheme begins to involve more people, including Victor Tellegio (Robert De Niro), one of the most powerful figures in organized crime. Meanwhile, Rosenfeld comes to believe that Polito, although somewhat corrupt, is basically a well-intentioned person, and he begins to regret the fact that he is setting him up. Rosenfeld’s woes are exacerbated by the erratic behavior of his wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), who nearly blows his cover.
American Hustle is an amusing comedy that benefits from strong perfromances (although Louis CK is not quite convincing as DiMaso’s boss). I have never been keen on Chirstian Bale in the past. His performances have struck me as either too operatic (The Fighter) or too understated (The Dark Knight Rises). In this movie, he strikes just the right balance, playing a character who is sleazy, but not totally devoid of empathy. And it’s fun to watch Jennifer Lawrence playing a character who is the human opposite of the one she plays in the Hunger Games films.
American Hustle questions whether the FBI’s sting operation actually accomplished anything. People have asked similar questions about the FBI’s sting operations against Muslim “terrorists”. (I have written about one of these cases here.)