American Hustle v. The Wolf of Wall Street

Spoiler alert: don't read this post, if you don't like knowing about plot elements in movies before you see them and you haven't seen these movies yet.

American Hustle is the best new movie I've seen in quite a few years.

New-images-from-the-hobbit-american-hustle-and-the-monuments-men-142354-a-1375953418-470-75It's a narrative that's quite cinematic: a Kodachrome-like light from the late 1970s pervades everything. The clothing and manners are right.

The actors are gorgeous, of course, because they are A-list Hollywood actors; but the characters they play, while stylish, are decidedly less than beautiful (Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence exempted). Christian Bale sports a smooth, naked belly in every domestic scene, perhaps to signify that a con is not currently in play. Robert De Niro, in an uncredited cameo, looks his age, his hair thinner than anywhere else he appears these days.

It's a caper story, too, with a sweet plot twist.

The camera is fluid, too. I don't mean that the editing features a lot of jump cutting. Instead I mean that the camera swipes and turns and walks in and backs off as characters collide in hotel rooms, restaurants, banquet spaces.

The Wolf of Wall Street has no such merit. Check that, the movie may do a credible job of capturing light that looks more like the 1980s.

The Wolf of Wall Street is essentially a series of disconnected pranks and set pieces. The characters have less dimension than Clutch Cargo animations.

And there is no story, no development. This happened. And then this happened. And then this happened. As if the central character's life were interesting.

Actually, I doubt that any human life can be that un-interesting. The filmmakers had to work hard to flatten all life out of the picture.

Why compare the two movies?

Well, though set about a decade apart, both are about confidence tricksters in New York who get caught up with the law.

I want to compare the two, however, because the two movies drop us off in very different places.

The despicable character in American Hustle turns out to have been the overly ambitious, un-self knowing, rogue FBI agent. Is the lesson of his fall that vanity and self-loathing exposes one to being a sucker?

There is no lesson in The Wolf of Wall Street. There is no character to empathize with. It presents a banal world without passion or romance.

American Hustle by contrast is romantic and sexy.

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