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Film / American Hustle

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"Did you ever have to find a way to survive and you knew your choices were bad, but you had to survive?"
Irving Rosenfeld

American Hustle is a 2013 feature film directed by David O. Russell and starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence. It's loosely based on the real life "ABSCAM" operation run by the FBI in the late 1970s and early 1980s, although the film openly acknowledges that it's heavily fictionalized.

The plot revolves around Irving Rosenfeld (Bale), a brilliant small-time con-artist who, with his lover Sydney Prosser (Adams) posing as a well-connected British aristocrat, runs a successful fraudulent loans operation out of a chain of dry-cleaners. The good times are brought to a rapid halt, however, when they're busted by ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper), who uses the threat of jail time to force them into working for him as part of a sting operation to expose local corruption in New Jersey, beginning with Carmine Polito (Renner), the idealistic mayor of Camden. DiMaso soon sets his sights on higher targets, however, and there's also Rosenfeld's highly unstable wife Rosalyn (Lawrence), whose suspicions about her husband's extra-marital activities put everyone at risk.

The film earned 10 Oscar nominations but went home empty-handed, becoming the third film with that amount of nominations to earn no wins and tied with Gangs of New York and True Grit for second place among the biggest losers in Academy history. It is also the third Oscar-nominated film where all of four acting categories didn't win any since My Man Godfrey in 1936 and Sunset Boulevard in 1950. (It did score big at the box office, however, taking in just over $150 million domestically and a further $101 million elsewhere.)

Not to be confused with a 2007 R-rated comedy film starring Kat Williams.

Tropes include:

  • The '70s: So very much.
    • '70s Hair: And how!
    • Disco: DiMaso dresses the part when he takes Sydney out dancing. Also, the use of "I Feel Love" during the club scene.
    • Porn Stache: At least a few guys sport these.
  • Ambiguously Brown: In-Universe, the FBI use a Hispanic agent as their Arab sheikh. Irving ridicules the idea.
  • Alliterative Name: Two. Anthony Amado and Rosalyn Rosenfeld.
  • American Title: Subversive variety, given that the central characters are crooks and the plot involves ABSCAM.
  • Arc Words:
    • "People believe what they want to believe."
    • "From the feet up."
  • Bad Liar: Richie didn't exactly do a bang-up job of convincing Sydney that he did not, in fact, have a fiancée. And any time it falls on him to sell the con, he either blows it or only just covers himself.
  • Berserk Button: Subverted. Despite the warnings to not mess with Irving's hair, Richie does it anyway... and Irving visibly restrains himself from punching Richie's lights out, since they've got a con to pull.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Irving and Sydney get immunity for all of their crimes, go straight, move in together, and share custody of Rosalyn's son with Rosalyn. Rosalyn herself gets together with one of Victor's enforcers, and it's a visibly healthier relationship than the one she had with Irving. Unfortunately, Carmine still went to jail for his chimerical action, even if they were for the good of the people, and Irving is forever haunted by the loss of their friendship.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The three principal female characters. Rosalyn is the blonde, Sydney the redhead and Carmine's wife Dolly as the brunette.
  • Book Ends: The musical kind. As the Columbia Pictures logo appears on the screen at the beginning of the film, Duke Ellington's Jeep's Blues begins playing. In the final scene when Irv mentions they were able to go "gallery legit" with the help of a bank loan, Sydney puts the record on and smiles at Irv, who smiles back - just like they did when they first met at the pool party. Incidentally, Jeep's Blues was the subject of their first conversation after Irving noticed Duke Ellington on Sydney's bracelet and asked about it.
    Sydney: Well, I care about him. He saved my life - many times.
    Irving: Mine, too. Which one?
    Sydney: Jeep's Blues.
    Irving: (smiles) Jeep's Blues?
    Sydney: (smiles back) Jeep's Blues. Yeah.
    Irving: You, uh...wanna hear it?
  • Boxed Crook: Richie orders Irving and Sydney to line up arrests for him because he doesn't want to see Sydney go to prison.
  • Brainless Beauty: Rosalyn, whose Dumb Blonde moments are so outrageous, they almost appear to be intentional. Noteworthy examples of Rosalyn's escapades include:
    • Thoughtlessly running her mouth to Pete Musane (Victor Tellagio's number two man) about Irving's phone conversations
      Rosalyn: ...he thinks I'm stupid, I'm not stupid. I hear him on the phone arguing...he loves Carmine, but he hates that other guy, that curly-headed IRS guy or whatever...
      Pete: IRS? You said IRS..what IRS guy? What are you talking about?
      Rosalyn: I hear them on the phone...I think he's got Irv in some kind of bind or something...
    • Starting a fire with the sunlamp while drinking, endangering her child in the process
      Danny Rosenfeld: (to Irving) Did you know they made a lamp that has the sun in it? Mommy got the lamp, she made her special drink, and the lamp made a fire.
      Rosalyn: (rolls eyes) I put out the fire...
    • Putting metal in the "fuckin' science oven," after Irv specifically told her not to, resulting in another fire
      Rosalyn: Bring something into our house that's going to take all the nutrition out of our food and then light our house on fire? Thank God for me.
  • Break the Haughty: The scene revealing The Con does this to Richie. As the conmen calmly explain how they played him, he starts off angry and gets more subdued as he realises how thoroughly screwed he is. When Irving (who had always argued they should be keeping the con small) criticises him for only going for the soft targets instead of the real money men, his response is an almost whimpered "That's who I wanted to go for!"
  • Briefcase Full of Money: What else do you use for a bribery sting?
  • Butt-Monkey: Richie's boss Thorsen, a rather meek and mild-natured man who receives little-to-no respect from Richie. Over the course of the movie, Richie progresses from mild insubordination towards Thorsen to obnoxious demands to violent threats to beating Thorsen up with a telephone to holding him at gunpoint. Richie then manages to completely avoid any kind of punishment for the latter by charming Thorsen's boss into supporting his plan, and then proceeds to cruelly bully and humiliate Thorsen at the celebration when it looks like Richie's pretty much brought down the entire Mob. And worse, Thorsen never even gets to complete an anecdote about ice-fishing with his brother. Becomes The Dog Bites Back, however, when it becomes clear that Richie's overreached and fucked up in the process, and Thorsen — with a certain amount of satisfaction — informs Richie that he's off the case.
  • Byronic Heroine:
    • Sydney, oh so very much. More than any of the others, she struggles deeply with herself over her path in life. It's strongly indicated early on that she's long adopted a highly Romantic view towards the life of a con artist who thumbs their nose at the structures of society. Her arc has her going through a deep emotional ringer. It's even implied that part of her sees a potential chance for redemption in the possibility of choosing Richie over Irving, until she realizes he's not so straight-and-narrow after all.
    "No more fake shit. No more fake shit. NO. MORE. FAKE. SHIT."
    • Proof of how "larger-than-life" her inner struggles are: In the end of the memorable "disco" sequence, after she and Richie make out in the stall, Sydney has him leave...and when she's alone, her angst comes out in full force as a scream.
  • The Cameo: Robert De Niro as mob boss Victor Tellegio. (Not only is he uncredited, but the end titles have a position for someone working for "Mr. Tellegio.")
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Alfonse Simone appears in an early scene. He's not Tellegio's lawyer at all but a friend of the conmen who held the party where Irving and Sydney met.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: All over the place throughout the film.
  • The Con: Irving and Sydney's exit strategy. They know Richie's grand plan to nab not only the corrupt politicians, but also high-ranking mafia man Victor Tellegio, will ultimately lead to their deaths as they are the only viable targets the mafia can punish. So they con Richie into thinking he wired cash to Tellegio when he really wired it to them so that they can use it to buy their immunity from prosecution and safety from the mafia.
  • Conmen Hate Guns: It's notable that Irv only gets his never-before-seen pistol out of storage when things have gone way too far. Still, it's clearly something he'd foreseen might one day be a possibility.
  • Costume Porn: There's a sequence where Sydney just rifles through all the beautiful 70s dresses Irving has in storage. Not to mention that she's wearing a fashionable elaborate outfit in most of her scenes.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Brenda, who Sydney convinces to wire the $2 million into the fake Sheik's account. She has posters of her cats in her office.
  • Credits Gag: The guy working for Mr. Tellegio. See The Cameo above.
  • Corrupt Politician: Subverted with Mayor Polito. He turns out to be a Nice Guy and good family man who genuinely cared for his constituents and the state of New Jersey. He only got involved in order to help his community and not for personal enrichment. Irving admits at the end that even the less-high-minded politicians caught in the sting were on a spectrum, some being almost as clean as Polito and others dirty as sin.
  • Cry into Chest: After the tense confrontation in the bathroom between Sydney and Rosalyn, Rosalyn leaves and bumps into Pete. Moments later, when Sydney passes them, Rosalyn is hugging Pete and sobbing into Pete's chest.
  • Death Glare: Irving gives one to Richie after Richie messes up his painfully crafted combover.
  • Disposable Fiancé: Richie's appears in one scene, then disappears.
  • The Ditz: Rosalyn is a bit more of realistic version of this trope.
  • Dramatization: The film is based on the real life ABSCAM FBI operation and the participation of con artist, Mel Weinberg (the man Bale's character is based on), in the operation.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The opening scene, which details the build-up to the first attempt to entrap Mayor Polito in accepting a bribe, succinctly reveals quite a bit about the four main characters:
    • We first see Irving Rosenfeld carefully and methodically preparing his comb-over and taking Richie to task for some holes in his plan, clearly establishing that he is methodical, details-orientated, and cautious, and that disguising who he is is a central part of his identity;
    • Sydney admits to an intimate (although not sexual) moment with Richie, but makes a point of rebuking Richie and gently fixing Irving's comb-over when Richie deliberately messes it up, suggesting that she is playing both men against the other but genuinely cares for Irving;
    • Richie gets into an argument with Irving, pulls rank, deliberately messes up his hair, and is over-eager when offering the bribe to Polito, nearly ruining the whole operation — he's impulsive, hot-headed, throws his weight around and is all-up a bit of a jerk;
    • Polito gets suspicious when Richie offers the bribe, angrily rejects it and storms out, thus making it clear that he's not simply a Corrupt Politician but is someone with genuine integrity and decency.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Polito is absolutely floored when Irving reveals the sting to him. He strikes Irving more than once, tells him to leave the house and never come back.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Sydney may be a conwoman but she is disgusted by how Rosalyn likes to use her son to manipulate Irving.
    • Rosalyn may be a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing but she calls Irving out for shouting at her in front of Danny. Irving was even trying to escort Danny out of the room as she was saying it, so Irving also applies because he doesn't want Danny to see him and Rosalyn arguing. Rosalyn also told Danny earlier not to call Irving a sick son of a bitch.
    • Richie even though he's overly ambitious is still trying to bring down the mob, which consists of violent killers who nearly take out Irving because Rosalyn sold him out.
  • Everything's Better with Sparkles: Sydney dons a sparkly dress for the casino scene - and it's what she's wearing in the many posters and promotional shots.
  • Everything's Sparkly with Jewelry: Rosalyn, Dollie and Sydney usually sport some elaborate gold earrings, necklaces and rings throughout the film. Especially in the casino scene.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Richie hitting his boss with a telephone leaves the latter with a bandage over one eye.
    • Richie's eye gets a little scratch when Sydney hits him in the head with a framed picture.
  • The Face: Sydney is an excellent social manipulator through her ability to read people. She snags a lot of cons just from being sweet and charming, and secures Richie the money he needs to pull off the fake bank account just by being friendly to the woman who can do so.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Richie goes from overzealous to greedy and crosses the moral event horizon in his treatment of Sydney at one point.
  • Fauxreigner:
    • Sydney often speaks with a British accent as "Edith Greensly".
    • A Mexican FBI agent impersonates an Arab sheik.
  • Foil: Richie for Irving. Irving is a criminal, Richie's FBI. Irving, despite his domestic troubles, cares deeply for his family's well-being. Richie easily ignores his fiancée. Irving is cautious and focused on keeping cons small; Richie keeps going for bigger and bigger scams. And, most telling, Irving fell for Sydney based on shared interests; Richie seeks only sexual connection with her.
  • Foreshadowing: Thorsen's ice fishing story. Richie cuts his boss off mid-story and assumes that the moral of the story is that his brother being too determined to caught fish, falls in the ice and dies. While Thorsen makes it clear Richie is wrong, it ultimately ends up being his fate. Determined to make a huge bust and get famous, Richie ends up drowning in his own scheme.
  • From the Mouths of Babes: Played with. Rosalyn calls Irving a sick son of a bitch in front of Danny, who then says, "Daddy's a sick son of a bitch?" Rosalyn confirms it, but tells Danny not to repeat it.
  • Gambit Pileup
  • Going Fur a Swim: Several of the girls, including Sydney, at the pool party at Long Island at the start of the film.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality:
    • A theme of the movie is that there are no clear-cut heroes or villains. The con-artists, although they make a living scamming the desperate, are also being taken advantage of by a larger corrupt system. The corrupt politician is genuinely idealistic and altruistic and reasons that his corrupt activities are his best way of improving the lives of the people he represents. Rosalyn may be manipulative, but she is also deeply hurt by her husband's affair with Sydney. And the FBI agent is violently unstable, hot-headed and, it's heavily implied, is addicted to cocaine. All the main characters are also cheating on their partners.
    • Even the mobsters are shown to be Affably Evil at most — their boss, Victor Tillegio, is shown to be a murderer, but is not unreasonable as a businessman, and spares Irving at the end. Tillegio's enforcer, Peter Musane, is also shown to genuinely care for Rosalyn, and their relationship appears much more functional than hers and Irving's.
  • Happily Adopted: Danny is not Irving's son, as Rosalyn frequently points out, he is his stepson. But Irving loves Danny enough to care for him as if he were his own son and fights with Rosalyn over him.
  • Heel–Face Turn:
    • Carmine's friendship helps Irving reform.
    • Also, (at least from Irving's perspective in-universe) Rosalyn does this when she agrees to divorce him and stop talking openly about his dealings. Up until that point, she had been presented as quite antagonistic.
  • Heroic BSoD: Irving gets one after coming clean to Carmine.
  • Historical Badass Upgrade: Although, like pretty much everyone, she's a Composite Character, Sydney Prosser's real-life counterpart was minimally involved in her boyfriend's scams and completely uninvolved in Abscam.
  • Homage: The entire film is a stylistic one to Martin Scorsese crime film like Goodfellas and Casino, with the editing patterns, fluid camera movements, narration, and 1970s soundtrack. Bonus points for Robert De Niro's One-Scene Wonder Cameo.
  • Hypocrite: Rosalyn calls Sydney one in the bathroom scene for calling out Rosalyn for flirting with Pete when Sydney has been pursuing an affair with Irving for "how many years" as Rosalyn puts it.
  • I Just Want to Be Loved: Rosalyn turns out to be this, as revealed in her big argument with Irving near the end. She tells him, in a voice full of tears, how she hates that Irving leaves her at home on her own all day, because all she's ever wanted was for him to love her, and how hurt she is by Irving's affair with Sydney. By that time, she has found solace with Pete and wants to go to Miami with him, screaming at Irving, "I've finally found somebody who loves me! Just like you've always wanted!"
  • I'll Never Tell You What I'm Telling You!: Sort of. Rosalyn tells Danny she would never say anything bad about Irving in front of him (Danny), before saying she thinks that Irving is a sick son of a bitch.
  • Improbable Age: Rosalyn already has a son who can't be younger than eight and has been married to Irving for years, despite being played by the twenty-three-year-old Jennifer Lawrence. Her real life counterpart was in her forties at the time of the ABSCAM scandal.
  • In Medias Res: The films begins just before Irving and Richie meet Polito and rewinds when it goes sour.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Rosalyn considers Insane Troll Logic to be sound common sense.
    Rosalyn: I knew that Pete was going to go over there and knock some sense into your head. I've been reading this book Irving. It's by Wayne Dyer. The Power of Intention. And my intention in sending Pete over to you was that so you could come up with this plan. So, you're welcome.
  • Intimate Open Shirt: Richie sports this for his date to the club with Sydney, appropriately enough for 70s fashion.
  • Irony: Irving describes with relish how bad it's going to look that Richie only caught two-bit corrupt politicians who didn't really do that much wrong, that he just went for the "soft targets" because "they was easier". Irving was always the one counselling that they keep the con small, not overstretch themselves, work "from the feet up". What keeps this from being plain hypocrisy is that Irv doesn't believe his own criticism, he just knows it'll look that way to the public.
  • It Will Never Catch On: The microwave is somewhat treated this way. Irving refers to it as a "science oven" as Carmine explains how it's used, saying it cooks food using science. It's pretty clear he barely has an understanding of the technology, but does believe in it. Irving and Rosalyn are skeptical, but Irving likes it because Carmine gave it to him and is upset when Rosalyn accidentally sets the thing on fire. Rosalyn also quotes a magazine article she read saying that it "sucks all the nutrients out of our food" (not that that stopped her trying to use it).
  • I Want Grandkids: Richie's mother pesters him about this at one point.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Irving is a con artist who takes advantage of desperate people and fences stolen and forged artwork and carries on an affair from his wife. He is also a great and loving father to his wife's son, to the point of not fleeing the country because he'd lose custody. He also genuinely loves and cares for his mistress.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • DiMaso manages to talk his way out of any kind of punishment for beating up his superior officer with a telephone by charming the head of the local FBI office into supporting his grand plan to bring down the corrupt congressmen and senators. It's subverted by the end of the film, however, when any credibility he has managed to acquire through his operation completely evaporates when Irving and Sydney arrange things to make it look like he's either embezzled two million dollars from the government or is an incompetent who's been conned by the very con-artists he trapped into working for him.
    • Played straight with Irving who was a career criminal since childhood. By the end of the film, he escapes jail, gets the divorce he's been seeking as well as joint custody of her son, and ends up with Sydney. However he is haunted by losing his friendship with Carmine.
    • Rosalyn, who's done nothing but cause trouble and make life harder for everyone she knows, finds happiness with a mobster.
    • Inverted with Mayor Polito. He only got involved in the scheme in order to help his city and state as opposed to personal enrichment. He still goes to jail at the end, although Irving and Sydney do arrange things so as to ensure that his punishment is ultimately lesser than those who were involved simply for greed.
  • The Klutz: Rosalyn. The microwave scene suggests that this is less due to clumsiness than a refusal to take seriously the consequences of the things she does; she doesn't forget not to put metal in it, she blithely sticks a metal tray in there while muttering how stupid it is that she can't put metal in it.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Done the other way round. Rosalyn wears her hair up throughout the movie, where she's depressed. In her and Irving's wedding photo (and they were implied to be happier at the start) her hair is down.
  • Logo Joke: The American print of the film opens with the late 70's era Columbia Pictures logo (with "A Sony Company" byline in a matching font), followed by faux-retro versions of the Atlas Entertainment and Annapurna Pictures logos (which appear on all prints).
  • Male Gaze: The camera just loves ogling Amy Adams in this film—constantly panning up her legs and focusing on her cleavage. (Ironically, her one topless shot is not lingered on in the least.) Safe to say the male audience got their money's worth.
  • Meaningful Name: Carmine Polito. With a surname like that, it's no wonder he went into politics and became a mayor.
  • Microwave Misuse: The movie is set in the 1970s, when the microwave was still a new invention. As such, it makes somewhat (but not much) more sense that Rosalynn disregards Irving's instructions not to put metal in the microwave (or "science oven," as it's called by both of them) he received from Mayor Polito. It blows up and catches fire spectacularly.
  • Misplaced-Names Poster: And how. Not only do the five stars seem to have gone overboard with the plastic surgery, Christian Bale is also the only one who hasn't apparently had a sex change thrown in.
  • Mixed Metaphor: "She was the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate."
  • Ms. Fanservice: Sydney is a Deconstructed Character Archetype. Her status as The Vamp is entirely a fake character she's created to fool people, because she's so terrified to face who she really is. She eventually can't handle the fakery and just wants to settle down and begin again. She describes 'Edith' as someone she created "because I needed her to survive."
  • Morality Pet: Carmine is this to Irving. And to an extent, Danny is too.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Irving goes through this when Carmine goes down.
    • Sydney's scream in the stall could easily count as this, following her going full-fledged into seducing Richie.
  • Navel-Deep Neckline: Sydney is dressed in clothes with plunging necklines in multiple scenes. Amy Adams's dress at the 2014 Golden Globes also had a plunging neckline, leading to some jokes that she had "stayed in-character."
  • Never My Fault: Rosalyn has a way of twisting things whenever she messes up so that she makes it sound like she was right all along. When she breaks the microwave by putting metal in it (after Irving specifically told her not to), she cites an article she read about how microwaves suck the nutrients out of food and says "thank God for me". Later she blows the whistle on Irving's con, and tries to frame it like it was done out of wanting to give Irv some motivation.
  • Nice Guy: Carmine Polito really is a great guy.
  • Nobody Touches the Hair: Invoked verbatim by Irving when DiMaso ridicules — then deliberately messes up — Irving's elaborate combover.
  • Noodle Incident: The ending to the ice fishing story. Richie keeps interrupting Stoddard, dismissing him by claiming to know what's the end of the story, and straight up ignoring him by the end. Word of God says it's about his brother taking a shit on the ice.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Rosalyn pulls this one on Sydney, suggesting that they're both disgusting and that's why Irving likes them.
    "Maybe we're both gross inside, and that's what Irving loves about us. At least he's consistent."
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Carmine seems to constantly dish this out to Irving.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Who knew the Italian gangster could speak Arabic?
    • Rosalyn goes wide-eyed when she hears her name shouted by Irving before their big fight.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping:
    • Jennifer Lawrence's fake New Jersey accent is extremely incomplete.
    • Amy Adams also struggles to maintain a (real-world convincing) English accent throughout her time as 'Lady Edith'. Though that may be part of the point.note 
    • Averted by the British Christian Bale, whose New York dialect remains steadfast throughout... even in the face of Amy Adams affecting an English accent in many of their scenes together.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • Richie's boss Thorsen, who's skeptical about his subordinate's plan from the start and only reluctantly goes along with it. Later as Richie grows more and more unstable he refuses to accept his demands and Richie has to go over his head to get further authorization for the sting.
    • Irving acted in this role when Richie's sting got more and more involved. He kept reminding Richie to keep things simple and go to the smaller score (although to be fair he was also trying to get out from under Richie's thumb.) Irving was proven right when Richie's overly-complicated scheme allows him to be conned at the end.
    • Carmine's wife Dolly acts as the voice of reason during the party when Rosalyn and Sydney are arguing.
  • Pretty in Mink: Sydney and Rosalyn each wear some full length fur coats.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Rosalyn gives a pretty brutal one to Sydney — when Sydney calls out Rosalyn for manipulating Irving and being "gross inside", Rosalyn replies that Sydney must be gross inside too, because of her con-artist lifestyle, and that maybe "that's what Irving loves about us". What makes this brutal is that, however malicious and generally unlikeable she is, everything Rosalyn says is true.
  • Recruiting the Criminal: The movie revolves around FBI Agent DiMaso forcing con-artists Irving and Sydney to work for him to bring down other con artists. The con-artists eventually end up pulling one over on DiMaso himself, ruining his career in the process.
  • Reformed, but Rejected: When Carmine finds out the truth, he breaks off his friendship with Irving, despite the latter having been reformed through it.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Rosalyn's "The Reason You Suck" Speech is brought on assuming that Sydney is just annoyed that she's Irving's wife flirting with another man. She's annoyed about that - because she risks blowing their cover to said man.
  • Running Gag: Stoddard's story about ice-fishing.
  • Say My Name: Irving does this twice at the start of the fight with Rosalyn as he gets home.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Carmine's intentions are completely noble and he does care about his constituents, though to get things done he often has to make back door deals. The plot of the film involves the FBI tricking him into accepting and giving bribes to get Atlantic City built, something he believes will do nothing but good for his city.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Irving, Carmine and DiMaso in most of their scenes. Justified in Carmine's case because he is a mayor.
  • Shout-Out: Plenty of references to Martin Scorsese's unique style and cinema, mainly to Goodfellas and Casino, to the point that reviewers debate if it's an homage or a rip-off.
  • Skyward Scream: After kissing Richie, Sydney just has to scream at the ceiling.
  • Spanner in the Works: Things would have been significantly less dangerous if Richie and Rosalyn had not both been rather unstable.
  • Sweeps Week Lesbian Kiss: Rosalyn's spiteful kiss on Sydney in the girl's bathrooms. Neither of them questions their sexuality after that.
  • "Take That!" Kiss: During confrontation in a bathroom, Rosalyn blasts Sydney with a Reason You Suck Speech and then kisses her on the mouth. Amy Adams even insisted on it, feeling that Rosalyn would need to do something to completely stun Sydney.
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: After almost blowing the entire operation and getting Irving killed, Rosalyn justifies her interference with some convoluted and self-justifying nonsense about Wayne Dyer's The Power of Intention and reasons that Irving's idea to get them out of this mess was, therefore, somehow her idea. By this point, having shouted at her long enough and utterly exasperated and bewildered, Irving just gives up and meekly goes along with it.
  • The Three Faces of Eve: The three prominent females fall into these roles more or less. Rosalyn is the child - very naive and immature. Dolly is the wife - the only well-adjusted woman in the film and Happily Married to Carmine. Sydney is the seductress - she's dressed seductively and employs a Honey Trap to con people. This is emphasised in the one scene where all three appear together - Rosalyn wears white, Dolly wears blue and Sydney wears a sparkly dress with a Navel-Deep Neckline.
  • Trailers Always Lie: Many of the trailers seem to imply Rosalyn is an active part of the con "crew". To say she's not is an understatement.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Irving is overweight, balding and hairy everywhere else. He's married to a beautiful blonde (albeit one with severe Sanity Slippage) and is in love with an equally glamorous redhead. Sydney even lampshades this in her narration, saying although he wasn't attractive at all she was still drawn to him due to his confidence.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The film begins with a title card saying "Some of this actually happened."
  • The Unreveal: Richie never finds out the punchline of the ice fishing story. Word of God is that the brother took a shit on the ice.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: And the movie cheerfully admits this: the very first shot is a title card casually declaring that "Some of this actually happened".
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Minor example when Rosalyn, dismissive of the warning not to put metal in the microwave, sticks a metal tray wrapped in foil into it, promptly setting it on fire.
  • Woman Scorned: Double-subverted with Rosalyn. She's obviously upset about the affair Irving is having with Sydney but doesn't do anything about it until she and Sydney meet in person. She retaliates by giving Sydney a "The Reason You Suck" Speech (Sydney gives Rosalyn one too in the same scene), pursuing an affair of her own with Pete, and telling him about Irving's plans, which gets Irving choked and almost strangled. Rosalyn shouts in her argument with Irving that she did it because of how upset she was that Irving doesn't seem to love her any more.