There was a near-sell-out crowd at the East Hampton movie theater on Saturday night for the 6:30 p.m. screening of “American Hustle,” and a buzz was in the air that had as much to do with the scandal involving New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as any Academy Awards nominations.
“American Hustle” is a period piece of sorts, all mid-1970s fashions amid the loose framework of what is called the Abscam corruption scandal. Sure, the top-billed stars, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Lawrence, are fine, but contemporary events rang loudly because Jeremy Renner plays a well-meaning populist mayor who is caught up in a federal sting.
Less a few score pounds, Mr. Renner’s Carmine Polito is a stand-in for Mr. Christie. The character is based on a real-life Camden, N.J., mayor, Angelo Errichetti, who was caught taking a bribe, as were a United States senator and six members of the House, among others.
No one is saying that Mr. Christie is on the take. Rather, the two biggest allegations are that he must have known about the plot by top aides to bog down Fort Lee traffic as political payback and that he and his family improperly appeared in a federally funded video promoting New Jersey tourism following Hurricane Sandy.
By the look of it, Saturday’s audience here was heavy with New Yorkers and probably some number of New Jersey residents out for the weekend. Lisa and I could feel the “aha” sense of identification with the story of officials on the wrong side of the law.
Governor Christie’s stumbles are sad. I was looking forward to a great Republican primary with him in the race for the presidential nomination — and maybe later battling Hillary Clinton for the whole enchilada.
If anything, “American Hustle” makes the New Jersey debacle more believable. Its images of politicians in their slick suits reaching for briefcases of money left us thinking, “Sure. Of course. Of course, Christie knew. It makes sense.”
I think the crowd was feeling exactly that way as we walked out of the theater.