It’s the week between Christmas and New Year’s, the kids are here, we’ve played all the card games and board games we can think of playing, and grandma has generously offered to babysit the new grandchild, if we’d like to go out – such an act of selflessness!
So, what do we do? Of course, we go to the movies!
And – lucky for us – all of the Oscar contenders are in the theaters, as they usually are at this time of year. We go through the usual heated conversation – we’re family, after all – about which one to see. And we decide on American Hustle. According to the buzz we hear, this one is definitely going to gobble up a bunch of Academy Awards, maybe even best picture.
We see it. And on the way home we talk about it. Which is definitely a good sign. We’ve been to plenty of movies over the holidays where no one had much of anything to say except, “Should we pick up something to eat on the way home?”
But we talk about American Hustle. And here’s the thing: I’m the one with the minority opinion.
I didn’t like it.
Well, yes, the cast was great. (Jennifer Lawrence … are you kidding?) And the acting was great too. (I hear that there was a lot of improvising on the set, which makes sense as I think about it.) The story was engaging. (I never once thought about checking the time on my cell phone.) And – wow – even the costumes were great. (That’ll be good for at least one Oscar, I’m sure.)
So, what didn’t I like?
I didn’t like the characters. I can’t think of a single character – and it has a large cast – who was in any sense … admirable. The movie is about pulling a con, a big one, a well-known one, but the movie is filled with smaller cons. Everyone in the movie, it seems, is trying to con someone else.
And maybe the movie itself is a kind of con. Rather than beginning with the words “based on a true story,” which it was, the movie begins with the words “some of this actually happened.” And though the audience laughed about that, I started to wonder – at the very beginning – what sort of con the movie was pulling on me.
When you see a movie, or read a book, or watch a play, don’t you want at least one character you can admire? Or wouldn’t you like to see someone start out bad but then end up good – or at least approaching what we think of as good?
You won’t be surprised to know that I like redemption. It’s an important theme in Christian faith. So, in movies – as well as in books and plays – I like it when characters are redeemed, when they are – how do I put this? – changed, transformed, maybe even converted. Paul Newman in The Verdict comes to mind. I think we want people to be better than they too often are, so we become involved with them, pull for them, and feel gratified at the end when they succeed.
None of that happened in American Hustle. And I felt conned.