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How we got hustled by American Hustle?

This movie does one thing well and one thing alone – similar to its protagonists it manages to trick you into liking it. It fakes and bullshits its way through to your heart with the same charm, quirkiness, spark and clever tricks the main characters manage to get away with pretty much anything. It hustles you and it hustles you so well, you end up enjoying it.

But I am not convinced. Just like others from this year’s Oscars nomination for best feature film of the year, I am not convinced American Hustle deserves all that attention and praise. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is not bad, in fact it is enjoyable, but I am getting very tired of modern day critics praising and elevating average movies to the status of “the best”, “absolutely unforgettable”, “purely fabulous”. Do we have nothing better? Are we really that desperate or is this just another example of Hollywood praising itself to no better end and with no one saying anything else?

And so, like any con man or swindler, David O. Russell and his team manages to trick us and sell us something mediocre for the price of something extraordinary, which it certainly is not. How does he do it? Here is how:

Step 1: Distraction

Well, this one shouldn’t be too hard to pin down. This movie does everything possible to make sure you do not pay attention as to how weak the storyline, character development and plot twists are. Too many characters, unrelated flashbacks, cliché 70s music and lifestyle references and wow so much comb-overs, cleavage, cocaine and over the top eccentricity, to be completely honest it was hard for me to focus on anything but all the unnecessary cleavage at times. And so, while we were distracted by the general sparkly-ness and at first glance ‘complex’ storyline, we fail to see that the dialogue is often weak and shallow, the plot is predictable and boring and the character dynamics and relations, be it improvised or scripted, are uninteresting and too cliche to care about.

Step 2: Social Compliance

Yes, as any hustler, this movie tries so so hard to convince you it has all the elements of a good, deep movie it almost becomes hilarious how hard it is trying and how hard it is failing once you see through it. It comes at the viewer hard and heavy, with authority and pretences so high it is mind-blowing. The trailer, the reviews, the casting, the general air of arrogance and righteousness Oscar baits have in recent years is enough to fool anybody in thinking they have to like this movie, this movie cannot possibly be bad. Yet, this movie is lying straight to your faces. I mean at the end of the day, anything with such brazen acclaim must be good and so the general sloppy chaotic direction of this film just seems legitimate in the end. Put enough likeable and praised actors and then it will no longer be important that the dialogue is there for the actors to captivate us in reciting it and nothing more. Hey, as long as it sounds complex and sort of historically and socially realistic, it won’t matter what they say, right? Noone will notice. And so, as any hustler David O. Russell will find enough poor gullible souls to enjoy this film because people believe in the strength of pretentious postmodernists’ need for garbage disguised as high art, because ‘Hell, I don’t know what they mean exactly but it sure looks like it should be good, right?’

Step 3. Deception, or I give you one, you get two but I get all in the end

This is so classic, it is in fact used even by the hustlers in the movie itself. It is the principle of bait – give something small of quality, let people bite and then sell them nonsense.  Being closely related to the previous points in the sense of how deceptively shallow and underdeveloped this movie is from any serious directing or screenwriting point of view, on this point I would like to focus on the few positive features of this movie and how this movie uses them to cover up everything else. And by far, the only positive feature of this movie is its female cast. Amy Adams once again proves she is an absolutely excellent actress, with deep nuance, grace and yet ferocity of emotion and depth. She becomes her character so truthfully, it is hard to imagine she needed all these costumes, hairstyles and nudity the movie imposes so bluntly on her, which is yet another mishap. And then you also have Jennifer Lawrence who I generally like and respect very much, but who also seems to be adored and appraised by the critics so much it actually seems counterproductive to me at this point. But no criticism from me for her performance as she captures so well the giddy, comedic, dumb blonds common throughout Hollywood history and yet so sincere and likeable it becomes hard to imagine anyone else doing this role better. These two actresses put to shame the over-the-top, mumbly, predictable, linear and overreacting characters of Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper and even Jeremy Renner so much so that you can forgive the rest of the failed acting and dialogue. But can you truly? More importantly, should you? And so here you have it, two brilliant performances despite the bad script and overall loss of plot direction to bait you enough so that it almost seems like you can dismiss any other flaws in this movie. Perhaps not done intentionally, Adams and Lawrence are just doing their job and they are doing it well. Perhaps the rest of the cast and film crew should have followed their example.

Step 4. Herd principle

Self-explanatory, I believe. If a few important critics and the Academy says it’s good, it must be good. I have not much to add to this point, but urge you to think for yourselves, people, and always first and foremost with a critical eye, for criticism often leads to real creativity and innovation. And so, after hundreds of 4, 5 star reviews, ecstatic rants, 7 Golden Globe and 10 Oscar nomination, my review will be a minority one, but I sure hope it counts for something.

And there it is, following the real strategies of con artists, I tried to illustrate why I believe this movie hustles right and left shamelessly. Now the questions is, will you let yourself be hustled, too?

Movie score: 6

Comments (1)

  1. Francois

    I think your comment is a bit harsh on the movie tbh : although the dialogues are not amazing, the understanding of how fraud works in finance and politics is pretty accurate. Then again, I would agree with you that the “social” involvement of the movie is rather shallow… Imo, Hollywood is having a “Finance/Fraud moment” like it had a “Vietnam war moment”, all actors/directors have the feeling they should mock and denounce Finance and political fraud, because, after the worldwide financial crisis, people want to see that, and it sells… (cf. Scorcese and DiCaprio, Woody Allen w/ Blue Jasmine etc…). Of course, denouncing fraud in a film is not sign of any deep criticism, since Hollywood superstars supposedly need world
    finance to make movies…


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