Review of American Hustle (2013)

American Hustle (2013) is a black-comedy and crime drama inspired by the FBI Abscam operation of the late 1970s and early 1980s. I saw the movie several years ago when it was first released. I watched it again, and this time I took notes on the cliches and misconceptions about the FBI.

Here’s the premise: A con man, Irving Rosenfeld, along with his seductive partner Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild F.B.I. Agent Richie DiMaso, who pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and the Mafia.

The movie follows a fictionalized script of the Abscam investigation. Bradley Cooper plays the role of the FBI agent and Christian Bale plays the part of the con man. Who wouldn’t enjoy a movie with those two actors? American Hustle is a fun film about fraud and corruption, with scenes that accurately depict the methods and technical equipment used to gather electronic evidence. However, there were a couple of FBI policies and procedures that would never be approved by the real FBI.

The film uses creative license with the romance between FBI agent Richie and his cooperating witness “Lady Edith” and his physical assault of his supervisor. These are fireable offenses.

In the Bureau, there are many prohibitive behaviors, and an inappropriate sexual relationship with an informant or cooperating witness is one of them.

Beating up a supervisor or any FBI employee is a criminal offense that would never be tolerated. The egregious actions displayed during the telephone bashing scene were so over-the-top, distracted me for the rest of the movie. Richie and his supervisor were also pointing guns at each other. In what workplace would that be acceptable?

By the way, the fastest way an agent can earn a letter of censure and a temporary suspension (known as “time on the beach”) is for misuse of a Bureau vehicle. Oh, the stories I could tell about “bu-car” infractions.

There were scenes in American Hustle that closely followed the real Abscam investigation. That’s because an agent and his informant were consultants on the film.

To learn more about the Abscam investigation, listen to FBI Retired Case File Review Episode 052: Myron Fuller – The Original ABSCAM, Con Men and Mob Guys. During the episode, retired agent Myron Fuller talks about how his cooperating witness, Mel Weinberg, was the inspiration for actor Christian Bale’s character and how Fuller and Weinberg spent a weekend with Bale at his home. Bale used the background details shared to develop his role in the film.

I rented American Hustle on Amazon Prime Video. You can view the movie trailer here.

Jerri Williams

View posts by Jerri Williams
Jerri Williams, a retired FBI agent, author and podcaster, jokes that she writes about the FBI to relive her glory days. After 26 years with the Bureau specializing in major economic fraud and corruption investigations, she calls on her professional encounters with scams and schemers to write police procedurals inspired by true crime FBI cases in her Philadelphia FBI Corruption Squad crime fiction series featuring flawed female FBI agent Kari Wheeler. Jerri’s FBI for Armchair Detectives nonfiction series enables readers to discover who the FBI is and what the FBI does by debunking misconceptions about the FBI in books, TV, and movies. Her books are available as ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks wherever books are sold. She’s also the host of FBI Retired Case File Review, a true crime podcast with more than 300 episodes available on all popular podcast apps and YouTube.

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