Moral Decay in American Hustle

Annapurna Pictures

“Some of this actually happened,” the opening credits of David O’ Russell’s American Hustle reveal.  This opening statement lays the groundwork for a dark comedy, loosely based on the real life “Abscam” of the late 70’s. What started off as an FBI ploy to arrest conmen, snowballed into a sting operation that would expose corrupted politicians. As a history buff, I’m always compelled to research films that claim to be “based on true stories,” but this time around, I decided to go into the theater uninformed.

The all-star cast was enough to convince me. Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence all dazzle in the film set in 1978’s New Jersey. Christian’s Irving is a slimy conman, both cunning and insecure in his relationship with Sydney (Adams), his equally conniving mistress. When their con entangles them in the web of FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper), the couple has to cooperate or face serious jail time. Jennifer Lawrence gives life to the character Rosalyn, the erratic wife of Irving. Ultimately, Irving and Sydney must get over on everyone to accomplish the biggest con of their lives.

Notable characters are Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), Stoddard-Thorsen (Louis C.K.) and the legendary Robert De Niro as mafia ring leader Victor Tellegio.

American Hustle has been compared to Goodfellas. While such a comparison can be misleading, it’s hard to not think of Goodfellas or even Casino, when Irving walks into a meeting with the mafia. Without spoiling the plot, one of the most Goodfellas-esque scenes occurs when Rosalyn and Irving argue over the state of their marriage and the current life-or-death situation that the family faces. It’s comparable to the bedroom scene in Goodfellas, when Henry has a meltdown after learning that Karen has flushed his stash of cocaine—their only means of income—down the toilet.

Moral decay is at the center of American Hustle. Ambition makes way for greed, and plagues even the most sound individuals. Everyone has a price and anyone can be vilified. Several times throughout the film, Rosalyn raves over a topcoat nail polish with a sickly sweet rotting smell that she can’t get enough of. Suffice to say, that is the allure of the “American Hustle.”

 Notable Quotes:

"People believe what they wanna believe."

"We fight. We f-ck. That's our thing."

"You're nothing to me until you're everything."

Annapurna Pictures