American Hustle – at the movies during Christmas break

American Hustle 2

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.

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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6 Responses to American Hustle – at the movies during Christmas break

  1. Kathy Craven December 30, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    You need to go see Saving Mr. Banks. That has redemption written all over it. Very riveting inside story on a movie that millions have loved. Wonderful acting, as well, in every role. By the way, Happy New Year, 2014, to all of the Brouwers.

    Kathy C.

    • Doug December 31, 2013 at 5:39 am #

      With the kids gone now, that one may have to be a Netflix night at home, but I’d like to see it. I assume Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson will be in the running for Oscars too! Happy new year to you too, Kathy.

  2. mike December 30, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

    Hi Doug –

    Yeah, redemption – we should all be looking out for it and stand-up when it
    walks in the room.

    Here’s a little ditty about redemption…and how it can happen.
    http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/johnnycash/redemption.html

    Next to good sermons, good music is the bomb.

    Happy New Year

    BTW – Lia just got back from BreakThrough in Mississippi.
    She was a counselor this year – she loved the experience.
    Thanks for watering the seed on mission trips.

    • Doug December 31, 2013 at 5:38 am #

      Say hi to Lia. Miss her! And thanks for the link to Johnny Cash. I had no idea – until you started responding to my blogs – that you had such a strong (and eclectic) interest in music. Happy new year to you too.

  3. Cliff Steffen December 31, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    Interesting. I really enjoyed the movie. Maybe because I spent the 70’s and early 80’s in NJ & NYC. In some vague way, recognized many characters and situations.

    I believe there were a few noble acts in the movie, for example: face to face with the mayor toward the end and the beginning of a legitimate art business (at least that was the premise at the end).

    Agreed, the characters were hard to like. Most (all) were pulling cons of various sizes on each other and, at the risk of sounding cynical, isn’t that what happens all around us?

    I don’t think all cons are, by definition, bad. Since people see what they want to see. If you help someone see the good bits, isn’t that a con on some level?

    • Doug December 31, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

      Thanks for engaging with my issue, Cliff. I liked that scene too – with the mayor – and wanted to believe it was genuine and reflected some conscience. As a Calvinist, I have to agree no one gets it right, but this group – yikes – I thought they were not very likable, even though very attractive.

      You’ll have to convince me that not all cons are bad!

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