The Art of the Con

‘American Hustle’ & ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

We’ve all seen movies in which con men don disguises, but when Irving Rosenfeld, the fraudster-hero of David O. Russell’s rambunctious comedy-drama American Hustle, reappoints the top of his head—with numerous hair pieces and a comb-over—he isn’t really disguising himself for a specific swindle. He’s just firming up his daily persona. With his awful 1970s coiffure and lounge-lizard apparel, Rosenfeld (played by Christian Bale) has turned himself into a wheeler-dealer of the disco era. Like Jay Gatsby, he’s putting together an ideal version of himself.

That’s why Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), his lover and confederate in crime, is the perfect partner for him. Having come from the Midwest determined “to become anything but what I was,” she begins her New York working life honestly enough (like Irving, who’s inherited his father’s glazier business). But when her own talent for self-invention meshes with Rosenfeld’s, she becomes “Lady Greensleeves,” a British visitor whose tony accent and distinguished airs help Irving lure suckers into his fraudulent investments and art-forgery deals. Sydney herself is entranced by her alter ego and keeps slipping into the aristo accent even when talking in private with her accomplice. It’s as if she’s found a way to make money...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.