"American Hustle" filmmaker David O. Russell said the bribe-taking politicians in his film – based very loosely on the 1978 Abscam operation — are "small potatoes" in the context of today's political climate, where recent campaign finance laws have made money's influence in politics far more opaque.
In a Q&A with Chris Matthews after a Washington, D.C. screening of the film Tuesday, Russell explained, "$75,000 in a briefcase is very innocent by today's standards, where the Supreme Court has made legal hundreds of millions and billions of dollars – I don't even know where they come from or where they go or what people are getting for that. It's beyond all of us."
"The Koch brothers...that's the idea – they fight any time there's a transparency law," Matthews added, to which Russell replied, "So these guys are small potatoes to that."
In the film two con artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) are brought on by an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) to entrap some politicians, including the mayor of Camden, N.J. (Jeremy Renner), taking bribes in exchange for favors. However both the con artists and the politicians get sympathetic treatment.
"It's the first [film] in a long time that portrayed a professional politician as a good guy," Matthews said of Renner's character Carmine Polito, based on the real-life Camden Mayor Angelo Errichetti.
"Carmine was beloved and would have done anything for his community, and he took a nickel in the old school style, which was a mistake but in some ways he was entrapped," Russell said.