Some of this is true. In 1978, New York City, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) was fixing his hair in a hotel room mirror, applying his hairpiece and combing over the rest of what he had left to fix it in place. Once he was satisfied, he went to meet his business partners, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) and Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) who were trying to encourage him in their latest endeavour, getting a mayor, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), to take a huge bribe of two million dollars in a sting operation. These were con artists, you see, but Irving and Sydney had backing from the authorities, having been recruited by Richie instead of going to prison for fraud. Yet some cons are bigger than others...
American Hustle was obviously an actor's dream, and you could tell the thespians were having a ball since with the permission of their director David O. Russell, they were allowed to improvise as much as they wanted, even to the point of rewriting the plot. But isn't this a true story, you may ask, how could they claim that when they were not sticking to the facts? It was only mostly true as the caption stated at the start of the movie, so essentially all those involved had carte blanche to tell the story of the major Abscam operation of the late seventies and early eighties as they saw fit, and besides, how often did you hear sticklers for detail complaining that a movie was playing fast and loose with what really happened?
Quite often, was the answer to that, therefore the best you could say was this stuck to the gist rather than the letter of the true life tale, and was probably better if you simply forgot about the facts and appreciated it as a yarn, like a shaggy dog story, that had something to say in its wild and wooly manner about the pretences and subterfuge people need to get by in life, though most settle for little white lies and don't go to quite the lengths that the scammers do here. Decked out in the most garish period-appropriate fashions the costume designers could find, and with hair that was teased and coiffed to within an inch of its life, at times the storytelling was so dense you found yourself watching the scenery as the plot passed by, lost in its own world.
If you did manage to get a handle on American Hustle and its weird, apparently unironic crime endorsing developments, you would find what amounted to a Martin Scorsese pastiche, specifically of his cult classics Goodfellas and Casino, with zippy scenes, elaborate cutting, old records abundant on the soundtrack and - was that? Yes it was, Robert De Niro uncredited as a Mafia boss. His appearance was important as it was at that point, somewhere about halfway through the movie, that the stakes were raised significantly; you may have been chuckling at the trappings of the era so luridly recreated in what was called the decade taste forgot by lazy cultural commentators, but once De Niro appeared and was taking this very seriously in one crucial sequence it was like a swig of very bitter black coffee, waking both you and the characters up.
Irving has already had a scare when Richie threatened to charge him with fraud, and using his love for fake-accented Sydney as a hook he is landed in an F.B.I. operation right up to his neck. Richie thinks he's very clever indeed, and for a while he is, but overconfident as the thrill of getting one over on his victims, both actual and potential, goes to his head and he forgets he is on the side of the law and these folks he is mixing with are all too experienced in crime from the other angle. That's not to say Irving and Sydney get it all their own way either as Richie coaxes her away romantically then Irving's wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence going about as brassy as it was possible to get without descending into reality TV caricature) and her dumb cunning become a liability when she has hooks in him too. Although it looked like a comedy, and there were some laughs, it played more like an overexcitable drama with overemphasis on what that entailed, not just the visuals but the performances as well, and if it was exhausting no matter how superior you were invited to feel, it was an impressive marathon. Music by Danny Elfman.