‘Star-studded’ is a cliché that makes frequent appearances in film reviews but it’s hard to see how else American Hustle could be described – Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence … a surprise appearance by Robert De Niro? And all of this acting talent is used expertly to convey a truth we should already know too well: the biggest con jobs are the ones we pull on ourselves.
Christian Bale stars as Irving Rosenfeld, an experienced hustler who deceives desperate businessmen into believing he can stave off their financial worries with loans garnered from his ‘London connections’. He’s ably assisted by Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser, a woman who manufactures her British identity from movie and magazine clichés. However when the FBI’s Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) exposes their racket, they’re faced with a difficult choice: face prosecution or help the federal agent fit up corrupt politicians. DiMaso can’t handle the mid-level success they deliver, though, and soon starts dreaming of delivering major mobsters to jail. Rosenfeld and Prosser realise that if they’re going to escape alive their next score will have to be their FBI ally.
Half the attraction of period pieces like American Hustle are the hairstyles we’re old enough to have forgotten. The story is set in the New Jersey of the 1970s when perms and pompadours were prominent, and men weren’t afraid to wear curlers. The art direction is as authentic as it comes, right down to the disturbing, deeply cut dresses that will make even the most ardent feminist wonder what women were thinking. But the real attention belongs to writer/director David O. Russell who will add this production to a growing list of career highs that include Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter and Three Kings. American Hustle has already won 13 film honours and is in the running for another 19 – all before the nominations for the 2014 Academy Awards have even opened. Not bad for a film that has snuck into the box offices before the big Boxing Day releases.
The best plaudit I could offer, though, would be congratulations for the delivery of a well thought out moral. Rosenfeld’s genius is in helping people rationalize their own immoral behaviour. He assures Jeremy Renner’s semi-corrupt politician:
“I think you should always treat people the way they want to be treated. I think Jesus said that. And I think that you should always take a favour over money. I think Jesus said that too.”
– and it’s enough encouragement for Mayor Carmine Polito to betray his conscience. However it’s clearly a case of a man hearing just what he chooses to hear. Others may draw us into sin but the most important deception will always be those we practice on ourselves: ‘It doesn’t really matter’, ‘There are worse offenders than me’, ‘I’m really doing this to help others.’ None of which matters, of course, when the law comes knocking.
In another context Jesus warned his listeners that building your house on sandy words like these will only lead to ruin. You have to find something more solid than excuses. This is why he finishes his story by challenging people to choose a more substantial footing for their lives: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” And Rosenfeld would add that life only allows a few chances at change, so make sure you choose wisely:
“You can only con yourself for so long. So you’d better make sure with your next reinvention you have your feet on the ground.”
Release Date: December 12