There's a scene where con artist Irving Rosenfeld (played by Christian Bale) races into his dry cleaner store, whisks past the line of shirts hanging from the metal spinner and finds his precious hidden safe.
He punches in the code and opens the door to retrieve handfuls of cash as he's about to scurry outside. But he pauses and observes where he is, as if he's just now realizing his location. This was his business, the business he started seemingly a lifetime ago by himself—well, with the help of the Bonnie to his Clyde, Sydney Prosser (played wonderfully and tantalizingly by Amy Adams)—on the bedrock of the small amounts of cash he scammed from desperate neerdowells throughout the years.
He slips through one of those round coat hangers in which he used to play hide-and-seek with Sydney.
His true "business" of scams started so small: a little chain of dry cleaners as a façade. That's the American dream, right?
Now, though, he's holding hordes of cash. He looks around his small business and realizes he has bigger fish to fry. That's what happens when he gets in too deep, when his scams get too big. He's used to hustling others, not getting hustled.
"American Hustle" tells the tale of Rosenfeld falling in love with an innocent woman as they join forces to create financial opportunities and stability for themselves.
But they get greedy. Using the unlikely alliance with an FBI agent named Richie DiMaso (played with full range by Bradley Cooper), they decide to go for the big pay day. There's something in it for everyone. Rosenfeld will get money. DiMaso will get cred with his police force, as well as the fame and promotions that come along with an operation of this size. Sydney, well she gets what she wants as she toys with both men, making it difficult to remember who exactly is scamming whom.
The big scam starts out with busting some politicians involved in illegal activities. But it doesn't stop there. It spreads to encompass Mayor Carmine Polito (played by Jeremy Renner in what I believe is his best performance of his young career). They even cross with the mob. Lives, jobs, relationships all are at stake as Rosenfeld must figure out his priorities and how to get out of this mess on top.
That's the beauty of "American Hustle." For a film that is based on real characters and events, it stays supremely suspenseful. Twists further complicate everyone's goal and mode of operation. Lies are uncovered. Threats are made.
Yet for all they endure, there's always the feel that whoever has the ace up his sleeve is going to come out a winner. And boy, is there a doozie of an ace that gets pulled out of nowhere. And while teamwork is vital, there only can be one winner.
Page 2 of 2 - The story's pacing in "American Hustle" only worked as well as it did because of the superb cast that breathes life into these characters. The relationship between Bale's Rosenfeld and Renner's Polito was especially touching, as manly relationships go, anyhow. Rosenfeld must get in close with Polito, who is connected as an unofficial ambassador of the people of New Jersey. He genuinely cares for the welfare of his town's people. It's only after Rosenfeld truly learns this when he starts to show his own personal attachment to Polito. How could Rosenfeld do this to a man who means to do so well for others? He must make a choice.
Adams does an incredible job. She's seductive, firm, passionate, strong, weak and vulnerable. And that's before she meets the other girl in Rosenfeld's life, played admirably by Jennifer Lawrence (Is she already going to get a second Oscar? I hope so). Lawrence is that embarrassing, fly-off-the-handle kind of woman who secretly knows what she's doing better than anyone else (she gets help from wise books, of course).
Like any good hustle, "American Hustle" has plenty of angles to play up. When the dust clears, there are senses of accomplishment and survival, but also of atonement. It's a wild ride that takes you places you wouldn't expect, from beginning to end.