A Gut Reaction to the Best Movie of 2013 — American HustleMarc Ehrenbold
Aimimage isn’t crowning David O. Russell’s frenetic, ABSCAM-inspired flick the best movie of 2013–The New Yorker’s David Denby already did that. Not that The New Yorker is the only source calling the year end Best Ofs. Far from. But, having digested the film as much as one can after but one full-on viewing, we can tell you that they got it right:
Does a movie have to be “important” to be great? Does it have to deal with socially resonant themes, or a great national event, or a disintegrating American family? “American Hustle” is the best movie of the year, but is it important? The plot jumps off from real-world corruption and an F.B.I. investigation—the Abscam affair of beloved memory, when F.B.I. agents, in the late nineteen seventies, employed a Bronx Swindler and also impersonated “Arab sheikhs.” But no one will take “American Hustle” seriously as a representation of that deliriously absurd episode. One of the oddities of the movie is that you don’t realize until the end that you’ve been caught up in a grave national moment as a result of which a number of congressmen and a senator (Harrison A. Williams, Jr.) went to prison. The movie is a comic fantasia told from the point of view of two con artists and a manic federal agent, and it’s a flowing tribute to the love of imposture (i.e., acting), to the love of music, dancing, sociability, and movies themselves. The director, David O. Russell, rounded up the hottest young actors in Hollywood and turned them loose on a script that is both giddy and grounded (in loyalty and love) at the same time.
There are a wealth of options out there for anyone is search of alternate, totally valid Best ofs, but today we’re focusing on American Hustle because today is the day after American Hustle hit UK cinemas. Meaning we’ve all had 24+ hours. Have you seen it? We will see anything from David O. Russell, no questions asked. Hell, we could do without the previews and we’d still be dying to see what he cooks up next. Not that we’d ever forgo a David O. Russell preview–we crave that initial glimpse of a movie we’re destined to fall hard for, even if his previews only tend to increase the cravings.
After only 2 minutes in David O. Russell’s world, we’re left hungrier. After 2 hours? Our feelings are more complicated.
Note: Do not fear, no spoilers here.
Complicated is not bad. Complicated, at it’s best, is layered. Complicated, in this instance, is jarring and infectious and totally disorientating–just like a good con. But is complicated “best”? That’s not the question The New Yorker’s David Denby is asking in his assessment of the “Best Movies of the Year”–instead, his concern is that the film may be too slight in comparison to the 2013’s other heavy hitters or, at the very least, too fun. His question: how close to home can Hustle possibly hit? Will Hustle change/tweak anyone’s mind? Can Hustle be “best” without being exactly important?
The answer is nope, probably not. In that respect at least, Hustle is no 12 Years a Slave. Hell, we doubt it’s even as of-the-times as Wolf of Wallstreet will prove to be. We do not care about this. What we do care about, however, is life substance, which American Hustle has in spades. This is a movie about relationships and personal potential. Every single character in American Hustle wants desperately and wants it now, now, now. Jennifer Lawrence’s plushly loopy wifey wants love (read: attention) and power (read: attention) in the craziest way.
But my God, so does everybody in this film! Amy Adam’s natural, Sydney Prosser, and Christian Bale’s old pro, Irv, are just smarter about it. (Or are they? What Jennifer Lawrence’s Rosalyn does and does not know about cause and effect remains something of a happy mystery until the very end.) Sydney and Irv are also genuinely in love.
Which makes their relationship–two con artists choosing when and how to con throughout the bulk of the film–highly watchable. Bradley Cooper’s reputation-starved FBI agent is, well, reputation-starved. And he, too, is in love. With his own dreams of __fill in the blank__. Even Louis C.K., arguably the sanest man in the room/film, wants. He wants everyone else to take a chill pill. He wants to finish his ice fishing story. He wants reason. Nothing and no one else in American Hustle is interested in the reasonable. Christian Bale’s character dabbles in reason when the situation calls for it–he’s not dying to play with fire–but he is a dreamer and dreamers cannot have their feet on the ground. And this–a film of dreamers faking it until they momentarily make it–makes this film important.
Plus, David O. Russell’s manic touch makes the film fun. The whole concentrated mess of it is delightful to behold, if impossible to pin down. Thus making this “best” film of 2013 kinda complicated.