By Matt Laroe (New York)
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“Everyone Hustles to Survive”

This is what David O. Russell is telling us this film is essentially about. People who are trying to survive in the world and who are willing to do anything to achieve that “survival” whatever that means for whomever you are applying it to. Or…is it all a con? Are the characters in the film really “hustling” for their livelihood? Or are they simply trying to lie, cheat, and steal their way to a life better than the one they’ve been give

American Hustle is one of the best films of the year and it is the unpredictability of the characters and their motives that are the driving force behind all of it. It is the best collective ensemble of performances that has been put on film this year with an A-list cast that fires on all cylinders under the direction of David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter).

The story is loosely based on the Abscam Scandal which took place in the late 1970’s early 1980’s that dealt with public corruption involving state senators and congressman in New Jersey. We find Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), partners in crime and in bed, who operate a con scheme that attracts wealthy businessmen that they embezzle money from. Irving had a successful operation on his own but when he meets and befriends Sydney; her talents allow their profits to rise as she uses her alias as a British aristocrat ‘Edith Greensly” to attract wealthier “clients” to steal money from.

Their luck runs out when they end up crossing paths with a client who turns out to be an FBI agent named Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) who has them dead to rights and offers them a chance to avoid jail time by teaching him how to con and help him bring in wealthy white collar criminals. The target of choice is Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) mayor of Camden, New Jersey who is trying to gain funds to help build casinos in the area to create jobs and jumpstart the cities’ economy.

Throughout this “Hustle” we seem to have many partnerships amongst many characters all leading towards a common goal…or do we? The more we watch things unfold, the more we learn that most of these people don’t really care about anyone besides themselves. In fact, the only time that these characters seem to care about one another it is when the situation benefits them individually. Sydney/Edith is the most crucial character throughout this entire process because she is we witness that she is able to drive the situation in whichever way suits her best better than the others around her.

On one hand she may actually be in love with Irving and wants to continue the exciting lifestyle they have shared. On the other hand, she sees that Richie offers her not only a way out of jail but she sees that his star will rise after this bust and she could choose to stick with him because she fears that Irving will ultimately leave her for his wife Rosalyn (a funny but a little over the top Jennifer Lawrence) and his son Danny.

Sydney is the strongest character in the film but also the weakest. She is able to manipulate the men who have the power in her life but she also can’t function without them. She needs to attach herself to someone in order to give her the chance at “survival” and having the opportunity for the life that she desires. Amy Adams does phenomenal work developing this character into a true enigma who keeps us guessing throughout the film. Women come out favorably in the film in terms of who has the most power. All of the men on the outside seem to think they are running things their way but it’s the women in their lives who are the ones influencing their decisions the most and manipulating them to steer things in their direction.

The argument can be made that Richie is even more selfish then Sydney in the film. We can assume that Richie’s life hasn’t turned out how he envisioned and his involvement in this con artist business has given him the jolt of danger and excitement that he has been searching for. So much so, that he is willing to go beyond the orders of his boss (Louis C.K.) to further the assignment along. Richie is after the glory that comes with being the FBI agent to bring down high powered government officials and become a hero which would ultimately give him a promotion and a better life in his eyes. Cooper picks up right where he left off from Silver Linings Playbook playing a similar livewire character who perhaps speaks a little faster than he thinks.

All of this brings me back to the title of the film and makes me wonder…what makes it an “American” hustle? We as Americans like to take pride for living in a society that has the reputation for having success by “picking yourself up by your bootstraps” so to speak and working hard for good living. But is that what America is anymore? Do most citizens of this country still endorse this philosophy? Or have we proven that we can still find success by taking advantage of each other in a “dog eat dog” world where every man is for himself and working hard can be for suckers as long as you know how to work the system. The film seems to represent the bridge between those two philosophies from what was then to what is now and how people can build their lives in today’s America.

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