Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||David O. Russell|
|Music by||Danny Elfman|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Running time||138 minutes|
American Hustle is a 2013 American crime comedy-drama film directed by David O. Russell, from a screenplay written by Eric Warren Singer and Russell, loosely based on the FBI ABSCAM operation of the late 1970s and early 1980s. It stars Christian Bale and Amy Adams as two con artists who are forced by an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) to set up an elaborate sting operation on corrupt politicians, including the mayor of Camden, New Jersey (Jeremy Renner). Jennifer Lawrence plays the unpredictable wife of Bale's character.
Principal photography on American Hustle began on March 8, 2013 in Boston and Worcester, Massachusetts, and New York City. The film had its nationwide release in the United States on December 20, 2013. The film received critical acclaim and has been a box office success. It received ten Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Writing (Original Screenplay), but did not win in any category. It became the second film since 1981, and the 15th overall, to be nominated in the four acting categories, the first being Silver Linings Playbook, also directed by Russell and also starring Cooper and Lawrence. American Hustle won three Golden Globe Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture and three BAFTA Awards, among other achievements.
In 1978, con artists Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser have started a relationship and are working together. Sydney has improved Rosenfeld's scams, posing as English aristocrat "Lady Edith Greensly". They are a well-matched couple, but Irving is hesitant to leave his adopted son Danny with his wife Rosalyn, who will not divorce him.
FBI agent Richard "Richie" DiMaso catches Rosenfeld and Prosser in a loan scam but offers to release them if Irving can line up four additional arrests. Sydney opposes the agreement. Richie believes Sydney is English but has proof that her claim of aristocracy is fraudulent. Sydney tells Irving she will manipulate Richie, distancing herself from Irving.
Irving has a friend pretending to be a wealthy Arab sheikh looking for potential investments in America. An associate of Irving's suggests the sheikh do business with Mayor Carmine Polito of Camden, New Jersey who is campaigning to revitalize gambling in Atlantic City but has struggled in fundraising. Richie devises a plan to entrap Carmine, despite the objections of Irving and his boss, Stoddard Thorsen. Sydney helps Richie manipulate an FBI secretary into making an unauthorized wire transfer of $2,000,000. When Stoddard's boss, Anthony Amado, hears of the operation, he praises Richie's initiative, pressuring Stoddard to continue.
Richie's overeagerness to catch Carmine causes the mayor to leave their meeting. Irving convinces Carmine the sheikh is legitimate, expressing his dislike toward Richie, and the two become friends. Richie arranges for Carmine to meet the sheikh at an airfield, and without consulting the others, has Mexican-American FBI agent Paco Hernandez play the sheikh.
Carmine brings the sheikh to a casino party, explaining mobsters are there and it is a necessary part of doing business. Irving is surprised to see Mafia overlord Victor Tellegio, second-in-command to Meyer Lansky, there, and wants to meet the sheikh. Tellegio explains that the business needs the sheikh to become an American citizen and that Carmine will need to expedite the process. Tellegio also requires a $10,000,000 wire transfer to prove the sheikh's legitimacy. Richie agrees, eager to bring down Tellegio, while Irving realizes the operation is out of control.
Richie confesses his attraction to Sydney but becomes confused and aggressive when she drops her English accent and admits to being American. Irving arrives to protect Sydney and tries to stop their deal with Richie, but Richie says if they back out, Tellegio will learn of the scam and murder them both, as well as Rosalyn and Danny.
Rosalyn starts an affair with Pete Musane, a mobster she met at the party. She mentions her belief that Irving is working with the Internal Revenue Service, causing Pete to threaten Irving, who promises to prove the sheikh's investment is real. Irving later confronts Rosalyn, who admits she told Pete because she feels unloved. She agrees to keep quiet but wants a divorce.
With Carmine's help, Richie and Irving entrap members of Congress into receiving bribes on videotape. Richie goes over Stoddard, convincing Amado that $10,000,000 is needed to entrap Tellegio, but only gets $2,000,000. A meeting is arranged at the offices of Tellegio's lawyer, Alfonse Simone, but Tellegio does not appear. The operation continues, and Richie records Simone's admission of criminal activities.
Irving visits Carmine's house and admits to the scam but tells Carmine he has a plan to help him. Carmine angrily throws Irving out, their friendship ended. Later, the money is missing, but an anonymous source offers to return it in exchange for Irving and Sydney's immunity and a reduced sentence for Carmine. Amado wants to make the deal, but Richie objects. Irving suggests Richie either has the money or is incompetent for losing it. In fact, they never met with Tellegio's lawyer. Instead, Irving had a friend pose as Simone to con Richie, giving Irving leverage and keeping them safe from the mob. Amado accepts the deal and removes Richie from the case, dropping him back into obscurity.
Irving and Sydney open an art gallery and move in together, while Rosalyn lives with Pete and shares custody of Danny with Irving. Tellegio accepts that Irving and Sydney deflected attention from him and leaves them to get on with their lives.
- Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld (based on Melvin Weinberg)
- Bradley Cooper as FBI Agent Richard "Richie" DiMaso (based on Anthony Amoroso, Jr.)
- Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser / Lady Edith Greensly (based on Evelyn Knight)
- Jeremy Renner as Mayor Carmine Polito (based on Angelo Errichetti)
- Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld (based on Cynthia Marie Weinberg)
- Louis C.K. as Stoddard Thorsen
- Jack Huston as Pete Musane
- Saïd Taghmaoui as Irving's Sheikh Plant
- Michael Peña as Paco Hernandez / Sheikh Abdullah
- Shea Whigham as Carl Elway
- Erica McDermott as Carl Elway's Assistant/Addie Abrams
- Alessandro Nivola as Anthony Amado
- Elisabeth Röhm as Dolly Polito (based on Dolores "Dodie" Errichetti)
- Colleen Camp as Brenda
- Paul Herman as Alfonse Simone
- Anthony Zerbe as a US Senator from New Jersey (based on US Senator Harrison A. "Pete" Williams)
- Robert De Niro (uncredited) as Victor Tellegio (based on mobster Vincent Alo)
The film began its life as a screenplay titled American Bullshit, by Eric Warren Singer. The screenplay was listed at #8 on the 2010 Black List of unproduced screenplays. The film was set up at Columbia Pictures with Charles Roven and Richard Suckle producing through Atlas Entertainment, who initially considered Ben Affleck to direct before David O. Russell ultimately signed on to helm the film. Russell re-wrote Singer's screenplay, replacing the characters with caricatures of their respective real-life figures.
Principal photography started on March 8, 2013 and wrapped in May 2013. The film was shot using locations in and around Boston, Massachusetts (such as in Worcester) and New York. Filming had to be put on hold in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings with the city in lockdown. After lockdown was lifted, the film wrapped its Boston shoot and spent its final few days of production in New York City.
Christian Bale revealed in an interview that the majority of his character interactions were improvised in multiple takes in which he questioned David O. Russell about the plot. Russell responded that what he had wanted to focus on the characters, rather than the plot. To prepare for the role, Christian Bale gained 50 pounds.
Director David O. Russell released the teaser trailer for the film on July 31, 2013, and a theatrical trailer was released on October 9, 2013. In the United States, the film made its wide release on December 20, 2013.
Variety estimated the production budget at $40 million. When producer Charles Roven was asked if the budget was in the $40 to $50 million area, he responded “I’d say that’s a good zone.” As of March 9, 2014[update] the film has earned $148,431,000 at the North American domestic box office and in international markets earned an additional $101,054,000, for a total worldwide box office of $249,485,000.
American Hustle received critical acclaim upon its release. The cast received praise for their performances, notably Adams and Lawrence. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 93% rating, based on reviews from 240 critics with an average score of 8.2/10. The site's consensus reads, "Riotously funny and impeccably cast, American Hustle compensates for its flaws with unbridled energy and some of David O. Russell's most irrepressibly vibrant direction." Metacritic gives a score of 90/100, indicating "universal acclaim", based on reviews from 47 critics.
Christy Lemire awarded the film four out of four stars, praising David O. Russell's directing and the relationship between Irving and Sydney, as well as Jennifer Lawrence's portrayal of Rosalyn. She writes: "For all its brashness and big personality, American Hustle is a character study at its core—an exploration of dissatisfaction and drive, and the lengths to which we're willing to go for that elusive thing known as a better life." Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film an A+, especially complimenting Bradley Cooper's performance and stating that American Hustle was "the best time I've had at the movies all year." He later named it the year's best film. Time magazine's Richard Corliss wrote, "American Hustle is an urban eruption of flat-out fun — the sharpest, most exhilarating comedy in years. Anyone who says otherwise must be conning you."
Peter Debruge of Variety was critical of the film, calling it "a sloppy sprawl of a movie" and complaining that the improvisational performances overwhelm instead of adding to a coherent plot." He also went on to write that it "makes your brain hurt — and worse, overwhelms the already overcomplicated Abscam retelling at the center of the film." 
American Hustle received seven Golden Globe Award nominations; it won for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, with Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence winning Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture respectively.
It received 10 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay, but did not win in any category. It was the second film since 1981, and the 15th overall, to be nominated in the four acting categories, the first being Silver Linings Playbook, which Russell also directed. It was the first such film to not win any acting awards since Sunset Boulevard at the 23rd Academy Awards.
The film also took top honors at the 20th Screen Actors Guild Awards, winning for Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture.
The film was also nominated for 10 British Academy Film Awards, with Jennifer Lawrence winning for Actress in a Supporting Role, and David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer winning for Best Original Screenplay.
American Hustle makes no great attempt at directly documenting the Abscam storyline (in addition to the strong inaccuracy): the names are changed, and the film begins with the unusual on-screen message, "Some of this actually happened". Major departures from reality include:
- In the film, Irving Rosenfeld begins a life of criminality when he smashes storefront windows as a child in order to provide more work for his father's glass-installation business. (This mirrors the behavior of the title character in Charlie Chaplin's The Kid.) In real life, Melvin Weinberg began working for his father only as an adult. He did smash windows at that point, and according to one article after Abscam was revealed, it was indeed done to shore up business for Weinberg's father. A later report, however, states that it was done at the behest of the local union, to punish businesses who used non-union glaziers.
- In the film, Camden mayor Carmine Polito is shown as a selfless politician who gets involved in the scam only to provide jobs to his constituents; Irving feels so bad for Carmine that he engineers a reduced sentence for him. In reality, though Camden mayor Angelo Errichetti was widely praised for caring about the people of Camden, he also had a reputation for committing crimes. During the Abscam operation, he offered to get the fake sheikh into illegal businesses such as money counterfeiting and drug smuggling. Though Weinberg developed a fondness for Errichetti as a man who "didn't beat around the bush", he made no attempt to protect Errichetti from prosecution.
- Evelyn Knight, Weinberg's mistress on whom the character of Sydney Prosser is based, was involved in Weinberg's scams, though to a lesser extent than shown in the film; and she was not involved in Abscam. She was also English, not an American impersonating an Englishwoman as shown in the film.
- Weinberg's wife Cynthia Marie Weinberg, the basis for Rosalyn Rosenfeld, is not known to have had an affair with someone from the mafia, nor did she nearly blow Weinberg's cover.
- The character of Richie DiMaso is based to some extent on federal agent Tony Amoroso, although in real life Amoroso was just one of a number of agents involved in setting up and executing the scam.
- In the film, the sheikh is impersonated by a Mexican-American FBI agent with very limited Arabic. In real life, the sheikh was played by two different agents: first briefly by an American, Mike Denehy, who spoke no Arabic, then by a Lebanese-American.
- Sydney/Edith proposes to escape to Estonia or Romania. In 1978, Estonia was a part of the Soviet Union, and Romania was under control of the tyrant communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu.
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