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American Hustle

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When the Conmen’s Street Smarts Escape Them

By Amir Faress • 12/25/19

The story starts out great but falls apart pretty early on.

Irving and Sydney are arrested for fraud. The government agrees to drop the charges in return for cooperation. The two are to help the FBI make “four busts.” The couple hits the ground running upon release, though – having nothing to gain from unnecessarily complicating the investigation – they have a vested interest in keeping the scope of the operation to its bare minimum.

But Richie, a rookie FBI agent overseeing the operation, has different ideas. Thirsting for recognition and promotion, he seeks to widen the investigation into politicians and the mob. To the couple’s chagrin, the operation does widen beyond catching a few petty criminals, and before long Richie is going after the popular mayor of Atlantic City.

So far everything makes perfect sense.

The story starts falling apart when Sydney volunteers to show Richie an obscure and complicated method of wire transfer to help him trap the mayor. Everything about this plot point is counterintuitive. Sydney has absolutely nothing to gain by voluntarily going out of her way to help Richie widen the scope of the operation.

And it gets worse.

After the mayor takes the bait and goes into a meeting secretly recorded by the FBI, a slip up on the part of Richie is enough for him to realize something is off. When the mayor storms out, Richie orders Irving to persuade him to return. The mayor’s departure should have been a heaven-sent opportunity for Irving to get out of the jam by limiting his cooperation to the original four busts without getting any politicians involved. Irving has everything to lose and nothing to gain from the mayor’s return. One would expect Irving’s street smarts (and basic common sense!) to come in handy by smelling an opportunity to ensure the mayor does not return. Though Irving had no choice but to obey Richie’s order to follow the mayor outside, he nonetheless could have gone about his persuasion [more] perfunctorily. He had no reason to go all out. Irving could have easily returned empty-handed, claiming he tried his darnest without result. Since Richie was not privy to the discussion between the two, he had no way of finding out Irving’s enthusiasm – or lack thereof – in persuading the mayor. As in Sydney’s case earlier, everything about this plot point flies in the face of common sense.

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