Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

10 January 2014

On the Hustle

I liked American Hustle. It's a pretty good picture with lots of fun performances.

To my mind, any review of Hustle is necessarily tainted by all the talk surrounding this thing. I saw the movie only a week or so ago, so my thoughts are late to the party, and anything I have to say about it is influenced a priori by all of the awards-buzz surrounding this movie. (Some people are ready to hand it the Best Picture Oscar, for heaven's sake.)

So I guess I'll say a few things about David O. Russell in general instead of about this movie in particular. To my mind, ever since The Fighter (which received an enormous amount of awards buzz) Russell has simply been making excellent genre pictures. And it would seem that this is all he wants to do. It has seemed to me an odd thing for the director who made Three Kings and I ♥ Huckabees to keep making movies that easily fit generic conventions, but The Fighter was a pretty standard boxing movie and Silver Linings Playbook was a generic romantic comedy with some great performances.

So, too, is American Hustle. It's a standard grifter movie with a few twists and turns. The performances (as in Silver Linings) are very good. I thought Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, and particularly Bradley Cooper were excellent.

Amy Adams heats it up.
But... well... eh. It's nothing special. I guess this is what happens when everyone spends time talking about how superb a movie is. If you get to it late, the movie can't live up to the hype.

The movie has other troubles a bit more real, too: strangely placed sequences of narration, where we follow not one, not two, but three separate narrators' points of view. The film, oddly enough, follows none of these characters as a main character, and can't quite figure out who it is interested in. The character the film's plot despises the most (Bradley Cooper's FBI agent), is often the one shown the most love by the filmmaker. And if I felt a little weird about this character getting his comeuppance at the end – he gets only what he deserves – it is because Russell doesn't find a position from which he can stand to watch his story play out. What is this movie's point of view about these mostly despicable characters? The smart ones win, and you gotta play the game better in order to get away with what you want.

True enough. And I am cynical enough to subscribe to these sentiments with relative frequency. But in Hustle the deck is stacked. This is a genre picture. And so the plot gets to twist and turn whichever way the screenwriters want it to go. In the end, none of what we're watching is much of a surprise, and none of it is very special.

Also: why are we in the 1970s? I like disco as much as the next homosexual, but I don't get it.