“American Hustle”, a Self-Portrait of 2014 Reflected from the Story of 1970’s


The best con-artist couple ‘Irving Rosenfeld’ (Christian Bale) and ‘Sydney Prossor’ (Amy Adams) is scouted for a big mission to snare corrupt politicians by an ambitious FBI agent ‘Richie DiMaso’ (Bradley Cooper). Initially they plan to entrap four politicians including the top priority ‘Carmine Polito’ (Jeremy Renner), but they get involved in bigger situations dealing with a number of politicians and the Mafia. This situation goes uncontrollably when the wife of Irving Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence) becomes an unexpected variable for their plan.

In a voice over at the end of movie, Irving speaks “The art of survival is a story that never ends.” American Hustle is a movie about “the art of survival or survival skills” of Irving and Sydney, the con-artist couple. But the skills are not the only worries for the con-artists in the screen. All of our lives require our own self-survival skills, and they are constant sources of worry to us. As Irving says,” We’re all conning ourselves to get through life.”


Constant worries about ‘Survival skills’ of each character give authentic feelings to the audiences because the story is scripted based on a true story of Abscam Scandal that occurred in 1978. If this movie were not derived from a true story, the dialogue about the art of survival in the metaphor for the competitive struggle of life would have been nothing more than a famous line from the Hollywood actor. In that sense, America’s historical background of 1970s, the main period of American Hustle, is noteworthy feature.

In fact, Irving and Sydney get closer and begin their love affair together by talking about Duke Ellington’s “Jeep’s Blues”. This song plays a key role in the movie by indicating who Irving and Sydney are and what they pursue for their vision and lives – the elegant life style. They both say, “Fucking Jimmy Carter. Fucking Nixon, really, with the war and the deficit and all that shit.” Judging from the conversation about the inabilities of President Nixon who took power until 1974 and Jimmy Carter who served his term from 1977 to 1981, their lives are not as intimidating as they have dreamed of. American society at the time was full of distrust because of Nixon’s Watergate Scandal and the Vietnam War that continued until 1975. Especially, in the late-1970s when Abscam Scandal occurred, the U.S economy was in the worst state due to the failure of economic policies that President Carter faced 14 to 16 % of inflation rate due to the oil price crisis. At the time of the era, the concept of “American Dream” has lured people, and this movie is based on American Dream that each character pursues her or his ambition, expecting a better life.


Eventually, looking for the art of survival for each character living in the lost era of justice and morality is the point you could focus on as you watch the American Hustle. The constant actions, of Irving arranging his back hair to the front to hide his bare head, Sydney laying her background as British when she is originally New Mexican and faking her accent, and Rich making his straight hair curly, are all part of the scam. The characters practice their own deceptions to survive in a troubled and troubling world by using the basis of human characteristics that people believe what they want to believe. The reversal at the ending in the movie shows the survival skill as well. However, Carmine is the driving force for the story. The survival technique of Irving who becomes friends with Carmine is different – it shows humanism. Irving starts to feel guilty for backstabbing Carmine, who really treated him as a true friend, in the back.

American Hustle does not make audiences feel sympathy for the story. But, actors’ performances are something to talk about – you should save your admiration for the performances! Especially, the performance of Jennifer Lawrence who brings wild energy to her role, and it shows why she is the Hollywood’s new favorite. Bradley Cooper as an ambitious FBI agent plays a more extreme character compared to the mentally ill character that he stared in the movie Silver Linings Playbook. At the same time, Amy Adams and Christian Bale also bring their own set of desires and dreams to this story. Each actor has really different and dynamic personalities and shows fundamental human behaviors, and all actors make their audiences to be immersed in their characters and make the story more absorbing and vitalizing.

The reason American Hustle received 10 nominations at the 86th Academy Awards is that not only the performances of actors were amazing but also that David O. Russell well directed and sensitively depicted the sculpture of human characteristic based on the true story. Even though the story of the movie does not have strong reversal component, the genre of comic and parody makes the criminal story less serious and more interesting. We should remember that this movie is just more than a parody of the true story – it is a movie about our instincts that we all should question about the art of survival for our lives and still love to have ambitions for better lives.


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