American Hustle | 2013
Con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his equally cunning partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) find themselves having to work for enthusiastic but reckless FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) on an ambitious sting to counteract white-collar crime.
David O Russell freely riffs on the Abscam sting operation conducted by the FBI in the late Seventies, wisely choosing to concentrate on the quirky characters more than the historical facts.
Abscam (a contraction of ‘Arab scam’) hinged on the creation of a fictitious Middle Eastern businessman happy to splash around his oil millions. Complaints of racial insensitivity soon had the FBI claiming the name was short for ‘Abdul scam’, after their invented sheikh.
The film is set largely in ‘New York’ and ‘New Jersey’ but, apart from a little scene setting, was made in Massachusetts, much of it around the city of Worcester, about 40 miles west of Boston, where the flashback to Rosenfeld’s youth in ‘Brooklyn’ – giving the family’s glazing business a bit of a boost by smashing windows – was filmed on Millbury Street, just south of downtown.
20 miles to the east, between Natick and Framingham, you’ll find the branch of Rosenfeld’s dry cleaning chain in which he generously allows Sydney pick of the uncollected garments, which is (the entirely respectable) Reliable Cleaners, 214 West Central Street at Wellesley Avenue.
The modest suburban home Irving shares with his wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) is 54 Doonan Street, in the Fulton Heights neighbourhood of Medford, a few miles northwest of Boston.
Reinventing herself as English aristo Lady Edith Greensly, Sydney joins Irving to form a formidable team under the guise of grand-sounding but bogus ‘London Associates’.
Giddy with success, the pair celebrate in the extravagant gilt and mirrored lobby of the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, 138 St James Avenue in the heart of Boston itself. This is also the hotel in which Tom Cruise attended the law firm interview in Sydney Pollack’s 1993 John Grisham adaptation The Firm.
Success is short lived, as one of the marks they set up for their fake loan business turns out to be FBI agent DiMaso, who recruits the pair - and their expertise - to stage an elaborate deception.
Back in Worcester, in the Worcester Art Museum, 55 Salisbury Street, Irving reveals to DiMaso that the famed Rembrandt portrait of St Bartholomew is a fake, to make the point that “People believe what they want to believe”.
The museum is at pains to point out that the Rembrandt is the real deal, but the film seems to have opened up a can of worms with the painting’s provenance now being questioned in real life. Check it out and make up your own mind.
There’s a glimpse of the exterior of New York’s famed Hotel Chelsea, 222 West 23rd Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, as the team meets up with Carl Elway with a plan to revitalise Atlantic City, which sucks in Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) – "the most quietly powerful person in the state of New Jersey".
Another famous New York hotel, the Plaza Hotel, Fifth Avenue at 59th Street, is the site of the first meeting with Polito, outside which Irving has a job on his hands convincing the Mayor that the deal is above board, after a clumsy attempt to compromise him with a case of cash.
Polito is seen meeting and greeting constituents on the streets of ‘Camden, NJ’, which is once again Millbury Street in Worcester.
Polito calls for support from the unions inside the Worcester Memorial Auditorium on Lincoln Square. The mural, painted “during the depression”, is a real landmark, the work of artist Leon Kroll in the 1930s and, at the time, the largest of its kind in the United States. Sadly, the disused building is currently closed to the public.
Irving assures Polito that no middlemen are involved, while their respective partners discuss nail varnish, over a meal at classy Italian restaurant ‘Baron’s’. Don’t go Googling the name – this is really Nick’s Bar and Grill, 124 Millbury Street in – yes – Worcester.
Meanwhile DiMaso and Lady Edith head off to an evening at the legendary ‘Studio 54’, along Worcester’s Mechanic Street, between Main and Commercial Streets.
In the morning, Rosenfeld and Polito have a hazy breakfast at Christie's Restaurant, 17 Lynnway, Lynn on Nahant Bay north of Boston, where the generous Mayor presents Rosenfeld with a state-of-the-art ‘science oven’. That’s a microwave to us sophisticates of the 21st Century.
The exterior of the big bash at which Polito introduces Rosenfeld to a clutch of shady and intimidating businessmen is Worcester’s Union Station, 2 Washington Square.
Although the station does house a beautifully restored Grand Hall, the lavish interior, where the plan comes dangerously close to derailing, is the lobby of the Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont Street, in Boston’s theatre district.
Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the theatre opened in 1925, developing from a movie palace and home to vaudeville to become an impressive venue for live theatre and music, undergoing extensive restoration in 1983.
Rosalyn has a date with Pete (Jack Huston), one of the mob guys, at Anthony's Pier 4 Cafe/Hawthorne by the Sea Tavern, 153 Humphrey Street in Swampscott, on the Bay just east of Lynn. It’s here she lets slip that something fishy is going on and, once again, the team has to rely on some hurried improvisation.
Once all the machinations and multiple crosses are worked out, it’s Sydney who inevitably takes up with Irving, collecting his son Danny from Clapp School, Arlington Road at Hudson Street, on Horn Pond in Woburn, about ten miles northwest of Boston.