Astrology: Film: Review: ‘American Hustle’ (2013)

Columbia Pictures

Columbia Pictures

David O. Russell’s American Hustle is a massive con-artist romp whose every moment bursts with its characters’ desperation, greed and lies.

A period piece set in New York and New Jersey during the late 1970s, the movie is loosely based on the Abscam scandal, tied to the FBI’s attempt to take down corrupt government officials by bribing them. And who better to appeal to the venal appetites of low-lifes for filthy lucre than their equally greedy law-enforcement counterparts.

Boy, do these culprits talk. In fact, watching American Hustle is akin to staring at a Mercurially motor-mouth’d velvet painting: the effect on the observer is equally horrific and mesmerizing.

Each player’s physicality and movement – abetted by a knowing soundtrack and exaggerated fashion statements – are truly riveting, especially those associated with Irving Rosenfeld. Irv is portrayed by a beefy Christian Bale who packed on the pounds, grew a sizable paunch, and here manages a ragged comb-over of architectural proportions which needs to be subdued with glue and hair spray. Irv’s ballooned-out physique gives him a schlubby softness that somehow generates audience sympathy. And, although he’s married to Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), an impulsive harridan who’s nonetheless more clever than she appears, Irv is involved – romantically and in his forged art and fake-loan schemes – with Sydney (Amy Adams). Eventually the pair’s con-scheming luck runs out.

Obsessive FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) arrests Irv and Sydney. To avoid doing time, the pair become participants in the agent’s Abscam-related goal. Richie’s target is Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), the mayor of Camden, New Jersey. Because of his true dedication to bettering the lives of his constituents, Carmine could conceivably put some dirty money, if offered, to good use.

A large part of the movie’s considerable pleasures is marveling at the characters’ fine-tuned delineations of evil and human frailty, most of which revolves around deceit, illusion, seduction and the need to be saved, all of which are the bailiwick of Neptune.

Irv tells Sydney, “We con ourselves just to get through life” and, in turn, Sydney tells Irv that her dream was to become anyone other than who she really was. It’s a Neptunian match made in the depths of the sea god’s ocean realm where water – and, symbolically, the unconscious – can be counted on to obliterate hardcore reality. These characters excel at swimming in the pools of their faux selves.

Ex-stripper Sydney wants Irv to save her, as does the spitfire Rosalyn. The intoxicating idealism which is the hallmark of Neptune has caused Carmine to not think things through clearly. And volatile Richie has so aggressively generated the elaborate Neptunian scheme to capture the schemers that the only way for the film to maintain a semblance of balance is to make him equally dupe-worthy.

This being a movie about con-artists, Neptune can be counted on to provide the motif of things not being as they seem. Mercury, the archetypal trickster and talker, gives illusory Neptune its form.

In the end, American Hustle is all about talking up a good game. A very good con game.

Astrology Film Rating: ☿♆ (Mercury, Neptune)

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