By John Horn
2:00 PM EDT, November 1, 2013
When you hear the words "con man," "American Hustle" filmmaker David O. Russell says, you need to know that "con" comes from "confidence," and that rather than having its roots solely in swindling, a "con artist" is somebody who really believes in what he's doing.
That's the starting point for Russell's new movie, which reunites him with Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro from the director's last film, "Silver Linings Playbook," and Christian Bale and Amy Adams from his earlier "The Fighter."
"Hustle," by Russell and screenwriter Eric Warren Singer, is loosely based on the Abscam investigation of the late 1970s into political corruption, in which the FBI targeted public officials and offered them bribes. The undercover operation famously employed a convicted swindler, Melvin Weinberg, and created a fake Arab sheik.PHOTOS: Movie Sneaks 2013
The film, due out Dec. 18, opens with an unrecognizable and unfortunately shirtless Bale, sporting a beer belly for his role as the con man and arranging his comb-over as if it were an intricate jigsaw puzzle, then shellacking each wayward strand into place. The visual image foreshadows the trickery to come. Irving Rosenfeld, as Bale's fictionalized version of Weinberg is named, is like almost everybody else in the story: not exactly who he appears to be.
"To me, the biggest idea in the film is invention — all the contrivances — the living theater that you do every day that's real," Russell says. "The characters all have a reckoning, and the reckoning is the baring of their souls." Adds Cooper: "Do we con ourselves just to get through the day?"
Irving is working for an FBI agent named Richie DiMaso (Cooper). Even though he lives with his mother, Richie is somewhat deluded about his place in the world. "He wants to be a big-game hunter, but he obviously doesn't get the respect that he wants," says Cooper, who was briefly cast as Irving when Bale's availability was in doubt. "But he's just so idealistic in his enthusiasm. He wants to take down these guys and make the country better."
Underneath the period pop songs and colorful costumes, it's clear that Russell is starting to form his own repertory company. Lawrence canceled a vacation to work in "American Hustle," and Cooper says he'll go wherever the filmmaker leads him. "I would do anything in any of David's movies," he says.
[For the record: 1:47 p.m. Nov. 1: A previous version of this story said the FBI had asked Melvin Weinberg to pretend to be an Arab sheik.]
Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times