‘Love and Theft’ – American Hustle (2013) A movie review

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Background

I was not a big fan by any stretch of the work of director David Russell. I liked The Fighter a lot, but I detested the second half of Silver Linings Playbook. I came the long way round to watching this recent critics’ favorite. I was aware some months ago that Martin Scorsese was making a new movie called, The Wolf of Wall Street. I quickly got my hands on the book by the same name this movie is based. By the half way point, I was very disappointed splurging whatever I had to procure this garbage.

What didn’t make sense to me was why Scorsese would put all his effort on promoting arguably one of the most vial, detesting and uninteresting characters in recent memory, that being Jordan Belfort. I had decided if The Wolf movie even closely resembled this scumbag’s book, I would not pay to see it since I felt it a moral sacrilege to give my hard earn money to promoting his name in anyway shape or form. Criminals from Goodfellas I can understand, heck they were interesting and paid for their crimes. This guy Belfort as one reviewer put it, ‘kills people’s dreams – that’s much more insidious’.

Don’t worry there is a connection coming.
As I browsed reviews of The Wolf on Wall Street movie, I noticed an interesting connection in what people were writing about it and David Russell’s, American Hustle. What was this Scorsese connection between the two? I had to find out. As I mentioned, David Russell’s previous attempt Silver Linings Playbook didn’t resonate well with me and I was unsure if American Hustle would live up to the hype. I wrote a review about Silver which you can find under my movie reviews here.

Anyone even remotely familiar with Scorsese cannot deny that David Russell has lent heavily from Scorsese’s quintessential best movies to make American Hustle . The narratives, the music and editing, in particular the first half of the movie all point toward a seeming homage to Scorsese’s 90’s work, specifically Casino. Even De Niro makes a key entrance in a role so reminiscent of Casino wearing the same ginormous glasses Scorsese left us with in the final scene. Many have described that Russell has borrowed more from Goodfellas, but I don’t see it as much I do with Casino. Borrowing and immersing material from populist culture is not new to David Russell’s work. I noticed in Silver Linings how a lot of the writing involved character’s spilling their theories on popular books, quoting from classic literature, recalling superstitious notions regarding football teams, blatant marketing of iPods and musings about the greatest music. It seemed as though Silver was more a satire or social commentary about how materialistic and consumer obsessed our society is.

There is no denying that Russell in his new movie, American Hustle has once again demonstrated his passion for heightening the senses regarding materialism and social trends given its almost perverse saturation of 1970’s references. He tries so hard to draw his audiences in by fairly superficial materialistic means like the barrage of 1970’s music, John Travolta dancing, the uncanny focus on men and women’s hair styles, cleavage, drugs, money, quirkiness etc etc and of course that’s fine, the movie is based in the 70’s. But how much of it seems real? Does hearing Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in the middle of the movie connect with what we are seeing on screen or is it thrown in because it will strike a chord with audiences?

One could argue, the movie eventually does stand on its own two feet. Unlike Silver Linings which leads to an eventual Strictly Ballroom squeamish sequence, this movie does the opposite. It leads to some great plot twists which enhance the explosivity of the situations our protagonists find themselves. Thank God, it is not predictable. American Hustle eventually does becomes its own beast. The acting is very good. Christian Bale as always is exceptional and the female cast, Amy Adams worth noting is excellent. I liked her seductress ways in The Master as well. Their are a lot of comical undertones and at times in your face laugh out loud moments you might find yourself questioning, ‘Should I actually be laughing at this’? Ironically, there isn’t much physical action in this, but the script is so super solid you wonder how a director could screw this up. There were apparently lots of improvisation in this movie which undoubtedly enhanced its spontaneity and feel of realism. The cheeky manipulation and seductive powers of the female leads was expertly delivered and how the embattled men craved their scanty approval was almost the stuff of Shakespeare.

These are modern times and this movie is for modern audiences. I admired Russell’s The Fighter because of it’s originality and I detested Silver Linings Playbook for the exact opposite reason. But American Hustle broaches the two. Love and Theft I call it, like the title of Bob Dylan’s 2001 classic album which also borrows heavily from other sources, but still stands up on its own as something quite fresh. Fresh, how? That’s hard to place your finger on.

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'I am a man, a hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you.' - The Master

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