Curiosity brought the missus and me to the ticket window this past weekend to see American Hustle, and I admit I went in with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I’d seen the previews so many times I could recite them, and I’d grown wary of good actors shouting their lines, and satirizing the seventies as they shouted. And my wariness didn’t vanish until some thirty minutes into the movie. Then the story line took hold beneath these eminently talented actors’ skills.
But what exactly is the story line? It’s hard to synopsize because the hustle is so intricate, but think of the Abscam scandal of that same era, in which an FBI agent posed as an Arab sheikh, offering money to a number of U.S. congressmen for asylum in the U.S., and for other related requests. Here, it’s much the same, but those caught up in the sting are New Jersey politicians of various ilks. Christian Bale and Amy Adams – two nobodies aiming to embrace the “American Dream” – initiate the movie’s hustle, get caught, and are made front persons for the FBI sting, led by Bradley Cooper. It’s a bumbling, witty, and in the end near-genius ploy that Christian Bale and Amy Adams use to free themselves from the FBI’s grip and go legit.
This is life in America, I thought as we left the theater. There seem to have always been two avenues to success and a place at the table here in America:
- Hustle your way up the ladder, and damn the beatings, the humiliation, the ongoing prospects of losing everything in a New Jersey minute.
- Develop a craft or a profession and earn your way up – ever so slowly – through hard, honest work. The danger here is of the Willy Loman type – the steady drip, drip, drip of such hard work in order to remain afloat in America.
In the end what troubles me about this movie is not the yelling, the gaudy, profane grasping for recognition and status, but that Amy and Christian’s characters are glamorized for such reaching. But then that’s my bias, I suppose; my place at the table has been the sure but steady plodding though hard work, and hoping I don’t lose my soul to that drip, drip, drip.
This movie will surely be among the Academy Awardees this year. Who among its stellar cast will win prizes? Bradley Cooper, I think, for his portrayal of the FBI’s lead agent in this sting, and Jennifer Lawrence for Christian Bale’s gaudy, not-altogether-with-it wife. If this proves true, then that will be a bit of irony beyond the movie’s scope.
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