When you watch Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) glue and rearrange his hair on his balding head in the first scene of director David O. Russell’s “American Hustle,” you get a sense of déjà vu.
We’ve seen Bale in front a mirror — surrounded by more hair and beauty products — when he played the infamous Patrick Bateman in Mary Harron’s “American Psycho” (2000).
Sure, Rosenfeld is older and heavier than Bateman. Bateman isn’t plagued by high blood pressure and a manipulative know-it-all wife (played by the fantastic Jennifer Lawrence).
But they’re both American con men — practiced liars and actors whose confidence is as deadly as a siren’s song.
Bateman was the mad New York “mergers and acquisitions” man from Bret Easton Ellis’ novel. He murdered his acquaintances to the soundtracks of Huey Lewis & the News, Phil Collins and Whitney Houston.
Rosenfeld and his pretty partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) listen to Duke Ellington and John Cotrane. They run a successful Ponzi scheme in the tri-state area. Sydney would pose as Lady Edith Greensly, a rich English girl with London banking connections. They would deny it as they swindled desperate clients thinking their investment would more than double under Rosenfeld and Prosser’s fake firm, London Associates.
Or at least that’s what Rosenfeld and Prosser did until FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) caught them.
Now, their “get-out-of-jail-free” card is to help the FBI catch corruption. And boy, are DiMaso’s sights high…
If this story sounds familiar, perhaps you’ve lived through it.
“Some of this actually happened,” reads a black title screen.
Written by Russell and Eric Warren Singer, “American Hustle” is loosely based on the story of “sting man” Melvin Weinberg. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Weinberg helped the FBI entrap six congressmen, a U.S. senator, a New Jersey state senator and a mayor accepting bribes in the undercover operation, Abscam.
“You set up a crook to catch a crook,” Weinberg tells “60 Minutes'” host Mike Wallace. “We put a big honeypot out there and all the flies came to us.”
Bale’s swindler is oddly sympathetic compared to Bateman. For Rosenfeld, conning is a way of survival: “We’re all con ourselves from one way or another, just to get through life,” he says.
Perhaps it’s the way Rosenfeld looks — balding with a bit of a belly. You can’t help but feel sorry for the guy as his wife berates him.
“She was the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate,” he says.
Or perhaps it’s just the masterful acting of Christian Bale, conning himself into our hearts as he changes his figure and assumes yet another elusive identity (After all, how much can you trust a con man?).
At least this one looks and feels human.
“American Hustle” was directed by David O. Russell and written by Russell and Eric Warren Singer. The film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards including best actor, best actress, best supporting actress, best supporting actor, best costume design, best directing, best film editing, best production design, best original screenplay and film of the year.