Who is being conned in the new film American Hustle? –
The first thing I want to say about American Hustle is it is a brilliant movie. Film students will unite to praise the writing, cinematography, editing – everything that goes into taking a good movie and making it a great movie. Don’t be surprised when this film wins some Golden Globes and Oscars.
Before I get into the cast selection which was spot on, let me share a bit on how this film was shot. The opening credits give you a good clue to what you are about to experience. When Atlas Entertainment and Annapurna Pictures appear at the start with a 70’s style grainy look and record scratches in the sound track, you know you are in for something different. The opening scene with Christian Bale fixing his hair is shot with no sound track and without dialog, only the simple sounds of his movements grace your ears. I thought the opening scene really set the stage for what the audience can expect for the next 2 hours – a more classic style film. Don’t expect any CGI or blockbuster soundtracks here, you are about to be treated to a movie that focuses on the story and characters who make the story come to life.
Knowing how the film was made shows how important cast selection would be and American Hustle delivers! Watching Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence take on their 70’s style characters was like watching an artist paint their masterpiece. Jennifer Lawrence clearly uses this movie to step out of her “childhood” roles and prove she is a force to be considered in Hollywood. I personally commented that I could never look at Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss or Mystique the same way again after seeing her performance in American Hustle. So with the great screenplay, unique cinematic experience, and amazing performance, what did I think of the movie?
I really wanted to love this movie, I mean who wouldn’t want to show their support of such an exceptional film? But, I was left wanting when it came to the story of American Hustle. Nothing about the story drew me in and made me identify with the characters. I was not cheering anyone on, hoping for an outcome, or really even caring what the outcome was. I found humor in a number of scenes, most of which included Jennifer Lawrence’s character as the manic depressive housewife of Irving Rosefeld (Christian Bale). Some of these scenes resulted in eruptions of laughter from the audience, but in the end, these scenes only provided temporary relief in a story that never really caught my interest.
Throughout the movie, I was following a deeper story, one that many in the audience probably never picked up on. It’s the story of the devastating effects of sin. After the movie concluded, my first question to my viewing friend was not, “what did you think”, but instead was, “do you think the writers/producers realize how perfectly they just portrayed the sin condition”? The answer is most likely no, but that is where a biblical worldview offers such a perfect lens from which to view movies such as American Hustle. One of the key themes of the “hustle” in the movie is the characters “escape” from their life by taking on new personas which allow them to survive the harsh world around them and pull their cons. The movie does a great job with symbolism to show the characters slipping in and out of their personas using a prop like glasses or foreign accents. But Christians know there is no escape through wearing masks, or changing personas, or pretending to be something we are not. The only escape is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
One of my favorite lines in the movie that really shows how it grasps the sin nature is delivered by Jennifer Lawrence when she is eating dinner with some guests and discusses her finger nail polish. She says she loves it because it smells so sweet and yet has a nasty trash smell hidden in the sweetness. She goes on to explain, all the good fragrances have to be mixed with bad to result in the best perfumes and that is what people really love about it, the hidden nasty part. Throughout the film, the Christian moviegoer will find numerous other examples of how sin works its tendrils into good things to make them bad and yet more appealing to the masses. In addition, the corrupting nature of sin is on full display. One of the characters proclaims at the beginning that his grandmother never told a lie and he is trying to follow suit. By the end of the film, the power he gains and temptations he faces leaves him wrecked by his choices. So while American Hustle is a great piece of cinema, sure to be heralded as a great of the year, I found myself somewhat bored with the story being told. Instead, I was much more captivated with how well American Hustle shows the appeal and ultimately destructive results of sin in a fallen world.
Rating – 4 out of 7. I might be inclined to give it a higher rating simply to praise the amazing performances, but the lack of appeal in the story left me wanting something more. This movie is rated R and deserves consideration before viewing. Clothing is scandalous at best and a few scenes of sexuality and foul language may be too much for some viewers.