American Hustle vs. American Gangster

american gangster posterDo you remember American Gangster? Me neither.

But when it came out at the end of 2007 — during the Oscar-qualifying frenzy — everyone went to see it and nodded their heads sagely and assumed — assumed — that this ‘based on a true story’ film with a serious cast and palpable aspirations was a contender for our undying affection.

I’m pretty sure no one’s ever watched the thing again since. Why would you re-watch an old film that does a half-assed job of pretending to be an even older film? Like, “gosh, what I’d love to see is some cool, classic film with gritty soul but — instead of the soul — how about just some songs and a bad outfit to remind us that 1970s once existed?”

Russell Crowe American Gangster

Attica! Attica! Put this film in Attica!

Maybe you see where I’m going with this.

American Gangster was a picture Ridley Scott directed. It starred Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in a ‘only true if you trust reality shows true’ story about a ’70s gangster and the one honest cop who tracked him down. There is practically nothing else to say about it. There were some glossy scenes that contained some drama and the thing looked as a film should look. The performances were committed, although it’s hard to say to what. Maybe it had some funny bits, too? I can’t remember.

I barely remember American Gangster because it was a hollow film. At its heart, there was the screaming void. No new insight into the human condition. No revelatory technique to visualize or explode or otherwise communicate what it means to be alive or even have an emotion. You could watch it and enjoy yourself well enough, because all the individual elements seemed well-done (as in overcooked meat) and even occasionally thrilling, but there was nothing to remember.

Do you remember The Godfather? It's just like that but not at all.

Do you remember The Godfather? It’s just like that but not at all.

It was like someone took the French Connectionflipped it upside down, shook all the lint and nickels and whatever out of its pockets, put that crap in a sandwich with a gourmet cornichon and too much artisan aioli and told you it was delicious. Get it with three Oscars for an extra $1.99.

Eat the damn thing, kid. It’s a good movie. Tastes like Serpico. 

It’s exactly the same scenario with American Hustle. Which is why in approximately 3 months no one will ever discuss it again.

As Supreme Being has clearly and accurately statedAmerican Hustle is essentially Goodfellas and a host of other better, meatier, actually meaningful films, just this version is repackaged with more boobs, different actors, and no soul.

Christian Bale American Hustle

The movie star/ the professor and / Mary Anne…

I was looking forward to seeing American Hustle, as David O. Russell has made some fine pictures — Flirting with Disaster is the only Ben Stiller film I can stand, Three Kings works really well, and Spanking the Monkey is vastly uncomfortable. Also; from the trailers, you’d think this was a fast paced, wry, coke-fueled deconstruction of what passed for honesty in ’70s America.

Then the film began and I waited patiently for it to kick into gear.

I sat there, listening to Christian Bale and Amy Adams narrate dramatic recreations of boring pool parties and lame scams, waiting for the film to start. When would I begin to care about or for one of these characters? When would I realize that as apparently unattractive as these people are, they were also — in an undeniable way — a reflection of me and the world I inhabit.

The answer is ‘never.’

Please make my batshit crazy Jennifer Lawrence a double. And keep 'em coming.

Please make my batshit crazy Jennifer Lawrence a double. And keep ’em coming.

The pathetic con artists and F.B.I. agents and politicians who populate American Hustle are literally held up for our amusement. They are just jokes, constructing their comb-overs and falling in love amid a dry cleaners’ stock and yelling at their overbearing mothers. Some of those jokes are funny, particularly the one about how Jennifer Lawrence is the wife you wish you could leave.

That’s just fucking crazy talk, even if she does try to burn down the house on a regular basis.

bradley cooper american hustle

My biscuits is burnin’!

Other jokes are on you. Like the one about how you’re supposed to care that some senators and congressmen you NEVER EVEN MEET get arrested for taking bribes—which presumably affects society in some fashion? Or the one about how two losers (Bale, Adams) who rip off bigger losers for sums as large as five-thousand dollars — imagine! $5,000 in one day! big league, pal! — get coerced into running scams with a guy so insane (Bradley Cooper) you wouldn’t let him hand-wax your car.

After the film ended, I did my best to give Russell the benefit of the doubt. Was he trying to say something with this film? Was there a discourse he meant to spark by showing how nuts and pathetic everyone was vis-a-vis politics and greed? If so; I missed it completely and can’t unearth it.

jeremy renner american hustle mayor cloudy chance meatballs

Separated at birth?

In American Hustle, Jeremy Renner plays the big-hearted mayor of Camden, New Jersey. While they dress him to look like the Mayor from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and his performance is pretty average, I did manage to muster some sympathy for him. Here’s a guy who just wanted to help his community. Even though he didn’t do much that the film held up as wrong, he ends up with his life ruined. Is that the irony of the story?

Be a pathetic grasper and you’ll skate clear to ooze another day, but actually have a worthwhile goal and you’ll be punished for it?

Sounds like Hollywood to me.

Since you insist, here is another photo of Jennifer Lawrence

Since you insist, here is another photo of Jennifer Lawrence

This is a film that will probably win some Oscars and keep David O. Russell making more films like The Fighter and Silver Linings PlaybookHe must have learned his lesson about the danger of worthwhile goals with I ♥ Huckabees. No. Better to take the music and concepts and aesthetic that sprang from ’70s cinema and leave the soul behind.

Who wants to say something new when you can win Oscars and acclaim just regurgitating the same old stuff? Who cares if all the nutrients have already been leached away? People today will eat any old crap and call it a meal.

American Gangster vs. American Hustle is a battle no one wins, least of all you.

 

 

4 responses on “American Hustle vs. American Gangster

  1. I remember actively hating American Gangster when it came out. I’ve noticed a trend since then where Russell Crowe agrees to co-star in a film and his role is then bumped up because you know.. he’s Russell Crowe and the film gets ruined.

    It’s mostly noticeable in American Gangster and Man of Steel (which would have been crap anyway) but in State of Play there is a similar thing where his character should have got killed at the end but they didn’t have the balls. Would have been much better.

    It still pisses me off when people tell me they like American Gangster.

    • Yeah. It just pissed me off to sit down to such an empty experience. And to hear critics praise it for not actively taking a dump on their heads.

      Crowe isn’t a great actor. He was fine in Romper Stomper and other than that he just has mass and a resonant voice.

      Seriously, I just looked through his credits and the only other film he’s been in that I like is Master & Commander, and that’s not because of him. It’s because I like Peter Weir and boats.

      Didn’t see the remake of State of Play. The British series was decent.

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.