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." Irving loves Sydney but is hesitant to leave his unstable wife Rosalyn, fearing he will lose contact with his adoptive son Danny. Rosalyn has also threatened to report Irving to the police if he leaves her. FBI agent Richie DiMaso catches Irving and Sydney in a loan scam, but offers to release them if Irving can line up four additional arrests. 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 sheik looking for potential investments in America. An associate of Irving's suggests the sheik do business with Mayor Carmine Polito of Camden, New Jersey, who is campaigning to revitalize gambling in Atlantic City but has struggled in fundraising. Carmine seems to have a genuine desire to help the area's economy and his constituents. Richie devises a plan to make Mayor Polito the target of a sting operation, despite the objections of Irving and of Richie's 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.
Carmine leaves their meeting when Richie presses him to accept a cash bribe. Irving convinces Carmine the sheik is legitimate, expressing his dislike of Richie, and the two become friends. Richie arranges for Carmine to meet the sheik, and without consulting the others, has Mexican-American FBI agent Paco Hernandez play the sheik, which displeases Irving. Carmine brings the sheik to a casino party, explaining mobsters are there and it is a necessary part of doing business. Irving is surprised to hear that Mafia boss Victor Tellegio, right-hand man to Meyer Lansky, is present and that he wants to meet the sheik. Tellegio explains that the sheik needs 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 sheik's legitimacy.
Richie confesses his strong attraction to Sydney but becomes confused and aggressive when she drops her English accent and admits to being from Albuquerque. Rosalyn starts an affair with mobster Pete Musane, whom she met at the party. She mentions her belief that Irving is working with the IRS, causing Pete to threaten Irving, who promises to prove the sheik's investment is real. Irving later confronts Rosalyn, who admits she told Pete and agrees to keep quiet but wants a divorce. With Carmine's help, Richie and Irving videotape members of Congress receiving bribes. Richie assaults Stoddard in a fight over the money and later convinces Amado that he needs the $10,000,000 to get Tellegio, but gets only $2,000,000. A meeting is arranged at the offices of Tellegio's lawyer, Alfonse Simone, but Tellegio does not appear. Simone explains Richie he must transfer the money to Tellegio's bank account and produces the account number. Richie hesitates at first, but then Simone gives a detailed explanation on his criminal activities which is recorded by Richies concealed microphone. Richie is so overjoyed by this that he calls Amado and asks him to transfer the $2,000,000 to what he believes is Tellegio's bank account, which Amado does immediately.
Irving visits Carmine and admits to the scam, but says he has a plan to help him. Carmine throws Irving out and the loss of their friendship hits Irving hard. The feds inform Irving that their $2,000,000 is missing and that they have received an anonymous offer to return the money in exchange for Irving and Sydney's immunity and a reduced sentence for Carmine. It is revealed that the Alfonse Simone whom Richie had arranged the wire transfer with was a con man working with Irving and Sydney. Amado accepts the deal and Stoddard removes Richie from the case, which ends his career. The Congressmen are prosecuted and so is Carmine who is sentenced to 18 months in prison. Irving and Sydney move in together and open a legitimate art gallery, while Rosalyn lives with Pete and shares custody of Danny with Irving.
Several of the characters are fictional versions of specific real-life counterparts:Christian Bale as con artist Irving Rosenfeld (based on Melvin Weinberg)
Amy Adams as con artist Sydney Prosser / "Lady Edith Greensly", Irving's partner (based on Evelyn Knight)
Bradley Cooper as FBI agent Richard "Richie" DiMaso (based on Anthony Amoroso, Jr.)
Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld, Irving's wife (based on Cynthia Marie Weinberg)
Jeremy Renner as Mayor Carmine Polito (based on Angelo Errichetti who received a reduced sentence of 18 months)
Louis C.K. as Stoddard Thorsen, Richie's boss.
Jack Huston as Pete Musane
Michael Peña as FBI agent Paco Hernandez / "The Sheik" Abdullah
Shea Whigham as Carl Elway
Alessandro Nivola as Anthony Amado, Stoddard's boss
Elisabeth Röhm as Dolly Polito (based on Dolores "Dodie" Errichetti)
Paul Herman as Edward Malone who, as a friend to Irving, was the substitute for lawyer Alphonse Simone
Saïd Taghmaoui as Irv's Sheik Plant / Al from Queens
Anthony Zerbe as U.S. Senator Horton Mitchell (likely based on U.S. Senator Harrison A. "Pete" Williams as he was also convicted in ABSCAM)
Colleen Camp as Brenda
Erica McDermott as Carl Elway's Assistant
Adrian Martinez as Julius
J.J. Wright as Thigpen, a divorce attorney of 25 years
Robert De Niro as Mafia Overlord Victor Tellegio (based on mobster Vincent Alo) (uncredited)
The film began as an Eric Warren Singer screenplay titled American Bullshit. It was listed at #8 on the 2010 Black List of unproduced screenplays. The production 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. Russel regarded “Hustle,” a highly fictionalized version of the Abscam scandal of the late ’70s and early ’80s, as the third in a loose trilogy of films about ordinary people trying to live passionate lives.
Principal photography started on March 8, 2013 and wrapped in May 2013. The film was shot in and around Boston, Massachusetts (such as in Worcester), and in New York City. Filming was 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.
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. The film received nationwide US release on 13 December 2013.
American Hustle was released on DVD and Blu-ray on March 18, 2014.
American Hustle received critical acclaim, and the cast received praise for their performances, notably Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 93% rating, based on 257 reviews, with an average score of 8.2/10. The site's critical 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 out of 100, based on 47 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
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 was listed on many critics' top ten lists.
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.”
The film earned $150.1 million in North American and $101.1 million in international markets for a total worldwide of $251.2 million. It made a net profit of $27 million, when factoring together all expenses and revenues for 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.
The film received 10 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and all four acting categories, but did not win in any category. The film has the second most nominations without a win, a distinction it shares with True Grit and Gangs of New York, after the 11 for 1977’s The Turning Point and 1985’s The Color Purple. It was the 15th film ever to be nominated in the four acting categories, and only the second since 1981, after 2012's Silver Linings Playbook, which Russell also directed. Of the fifteen such films, it joins only 1936's My Man Godfrey and 1950's Sunset Boulevard to not win any acting awards.
The film took top honors at the 20th Screen Actors Guild Awards, winning for Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture.
The film was 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.
In October 2014, science writer Paul Brodeur filed a lawsuit against Columbia Pictures based on a line in the film in which Rosalyn tells Irving that microwave ovens take the nutrition out of food, stating that she read so in an article by Brodeur. In real life, Brodeur has written books including The Zapping of America about the dangers of microwave radiation, but claims that he has never stated that the process removes a food's nutrition.
American Hustle does not attempt to directly document the events of Abscam. The names are changed, and the film begins with the 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. 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 sheik 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 English woman 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. She was also of similar age to Melvin Weinberg, while the character of Rosalyn is written as being significantly younger than her husband.
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 sheik is impersonated by a Mexican-American FBI agent. In real life, the sheik was played by two different agents: first briefly by an Irish-American, Mike Denehy, who spoke no Arabic, then by a Lebanese-American.